Snow In Atlanta Makes For An Impromptu School Sleepover

Thousands of students spent the night stranded in Atlanta area high schools as a result of road closures from the Deep South freeze. Audie Cornish speaks with Reed Christian, an English teacher who along with her colleagues looked after more than 250 students through the night.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

While people were stranded on the highways, thousands of students were stuck in schools around Atlanta overnight. Reed Christian, an English teacher at River Ridge High School, worked well into the night taking care of the students there, and she joins us from here home in Atlanta. Of course, school is now closed. Reed Christian, welcome to the program.

REED CHRISTIAN: Thanks.

CORNISH: So, first of all, how are you feeling? When did you get a chance to sleep?

(LAUGHTER)

CHRISTIAN: I'm feeling a little tired, a little run-down. But it's a great day here in Atlanta. I got home, I guess, about 3:45 this morning.

CORNISH: Wow.

CHRISTIAN: Yeah. It was a late night. We had kids clear up until about 11:00 today, so I was one of the lucky ones, once our ratios got down within a manageable area that I was able to get home.

CORNISH: So let's talk a little bit more about yesterday morning. Walk us through the day. When did it become clear that it was not a normal school day? I don't know if it was calls from parents or what kind of clued you in.

CHRISTIAN: Sometime - I think it was around 10:30 yesterday morning, we got the message that we would be closing two hours early. And so we started getting the kids ready to go and getting our student drivers home so that they could get off of the road before the snow really moved in.

CORNISH: I understand you had upwards of 500 kids still there after school let out. I mean, how were parents trying to get to them? And how many ended up spending the whole night?

CHRISTIAN: What happened was, once the snow and ice really moved in and had hit pretty hard, the buses just couldn't continue to run. Some of the buses had to turn around and come back. A couple of buses skid in the county, and they just weren't willing to take that risk. And that's how we ended up with 500 of our students still there. The parents were trapped maybe in Atlanta. They were having trouble to get to their kids from their job, and so they were as frustrated as the students were to still be there.

And so a lot of parents parked at a church and a gas station up the hill from us and hiked in, some of them as far as a mile. And that went on late into the evening, and we just hunkered down and made the best of it until they could get there.

CORNISH: Now, by the evening, you still had about 250 teens, something like 30 teachers at the school. But I imagine you had to entertain them, feed them. You know, where do they sleep? How did you guys figure out what to do?

CHRISTIAN: We have amazing administrators at River Ridge and they had started really getting their thinking caps on, and what are we going to do with all these kids. But pretty soon into it, we moved them into our theater and started showing them a movie. We fed them some supper in our cafeteria. We went in and teachers and administration, you know, put on gloves and jumped behind the counter and we made pizza.

CORNISH: You just kind of came up with the recipe.

CHRISTIAN: We did. We figured it out. We pulled out cookies. We made hot chocolate chip cookies and cold milk and let them socialize a little bit more. And about that time, we were ready to put them to bed. We put the girls in the gym on our cheerleading tumbling mats with sheets and blankets. And we put the boys down in the wrestling room on mats. Luckily, we have a really great nursing program, and so we had all of the supplies right there on our property.

CORNISH: It sounds fun, frankly, between the cookies and the sleepover and the texting and the movies. At a certain point, did you get the sense from the students of the gravity of the situation?

CHRISTIAN: Some of the kids really started to get frustrated at a couple of points in the evening. You know, they were tired and they were out of their routine and they wanted to be home. But they were so well behaved and they understood. My husband teaches at a middle school. He was there all evening with his middle schoolers and his staff as well. High schoolers and middle schoolers understand that it's not the teacher's first choice to be there either. And so you can reason with that.

CORNISH: Reed Christian, thanks so much for speaking with us.

CHRISTIAN: Thank you.

CORNISH: Reed Christian is an English teacher at River Ridge High School. She helped keep more than 250 students safe overnight in Atlanta.

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