Oklahoma Tornado Project
7:36 am
Mon April 14, 2014

Junior High Kids From Briarwood, Plaza Towers Feel Left Out Of School Support

In the year since tornadoes ripped through Moore, there’s been no shortage of media coverage of teachers and students at Plaza Towers and Briarwood Elementary Schools, as they’ve recovered from the storm and adapted to a “new normal.” 

Rhonda and Jared Swearingen
Credit Kate Carlton

But what about the kids that graduated and left? Some of them feel like they’ve fallen through the cracks. 

Listen to the radio story.

For Jared Swearingen, who’s now a 7th grader at Brink Junior High, the experience of surviving a tornado leveling his school remains a painful memory. His mom Rhonda says it’s been hard for her and her son to not see all the attention being focused on Jared’s former school, Briarwood Elementary, and sometimes feel left out.

“I pick up the little Moore magazine and I see pictures of kids doing group things that are specifically tornado related or somebody that came to visit them at school to give them support,” Swearingen said.

“And I wonder, ‘Where is that for these few kids that moved on after 6th grade?’” 

Last summer, Jared went to a 4-day support group for affected kids, organized by the Calm Waters Center for Children and Families in Oklahoma City. He also attends individual counseling sessions each week at the Moore Youth and Family Services Center. But Rhonda says being among his peers seemed to help him the most.

“He just flourished in the group, and he doesn't seem to be doing well in the one-on-one,” she said.

Maribeth Govine at Calm Waters says that’s not uncommon.

“Teenagers often will respond really positively to other peers, so the fact that they gained support in that they're not the only one and there are also young people that also makes them feel like, ‘I'm not so weird. I'm going to get through this and there are things I can do to learn to cope with this,’” Govine said.

She knows support groups generally work well for kids around Jared’s age, and she’s open to hosting another group.

But more than providing a one-time workshop, she says what’s really important is that kids get ongoing help to guide their long-term emotional recovery. That’s a need made even more apparent by the timing of last May’s storm.

“It happened right there at the ending of school and then they were thrust out so they didn't even have the closeness and the community of their classmates to get through it,” Govine said.

At Briarwood and Plaza Towers, most kids who lived through the tornado are still grouped together with their classmates. But at Brink Junior High, Jared’s school, things are more mixed.

“It's a very unique kind of setting over here because there are some kids who have not had any real experience of loss at all and then there are others students who have had some severe issues,” Brink’s principal David Peak said.

He knew he couldn’t assume everyone would be at the same place in the recovery process, so he wanted to reach out to parents and see how the school could help.

“We sent home I think in the neighborhood of about a 100 to 125 of those letters and we just only got about 2 or 3 responses,” he said.

But Jimi Fleming, Moore Public School’s Public Information Officer, says that’s not entirely surprising.

“Let's say for instance somebody was mugged at a shopping mall. You would not expect them to go back to the shopping mall to ask for help,” Fleming said. 

“They were at school when the trauma happened, and we're asking them to ask for help in that place.”

Fleming and Principal Peak say it’s hard to assist when no one’s asking for help, but they still want to do whatever they can.

Meanwhile, Rhonda Swearingen, Jared’s mom, says she’s knows there must be other kids out there going through the same situation as her son, but she doesn’t know how to reach them.

_______________________

Ahead of the Storm: The Oklahoma Tornado Project stories are produced by KGOU News, with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Reports may be used in any media with appropriate credit given to KGOU and CPB. For details, refer to our Terms of Use.