Hundreds of NAHS Students Stranded at School during “Snowmageddon 2014″


Snow in the south always causes stress.

“Snowmageddon 2014” turned out to be a wild night for more than 400 North Atlanta High School students and the faculty and administrators who supervised them. Collectively, the weary students got a much longer school day on Tuesday than they bargained for thanks to a mid-afternoon snow and ice storm that crippled metro Atlanta.

The winter’s first snowfall seemingly caught the city, Atlanta Public Schools, and the state of Georgia by surprise. An inch of snow coupled with icy conditions created citywide gridlock conditions. Motorists abandoned cars on freeways, streets were impassable, and commuter trips home became 10-hour long nightmares. At North Atlanta, parents made a mad dash to retrieve students before things became too problematic.

By the school day’s 3:30 p.m. dismissal, nearly all city highways and surface roads leading to the school were completely snarled and unsafe for driving. An ominous announcement over the school P.A. system set the stage for what was to come: There were no scheduled buses ready to pick up students. Not one single bus was outside. It was increasingly apparent to school administrators that an unprecedented weather-borne logistical nightmare had landed squarely on their laps.

Safety concerns meant initial plans had students remaining in their 4A classrooms. By 5 p.m. students, administrators and teachers made their way to the Hillside Building’s mint-new gymnasium. Upwards of 500 students was part of the school’s impromptu assembly, a first such gathering in the new school building. Through use of walkie- talkies and the gym P.A. system, Principal Gene Taylor and Vice Principals Curtis Douglass and Robert Whitman kept students abreast of any needed announcements. Hopes ran high that expected APS school buses would arrive, but near-total gridlock on city streets dashed anyone’s hope for an impending trip home. By 7:30 p.m., with Atlanta mired in an ice-and snow traffic morass, a sinking feeling hit gym inhabitants that their taxing odyssey could go on for extended hours, or possibly even all night. News came in that schoolchildren were stranded at schools across the APS district and at other metro Atlanta schools. But North Atlanta was the indisputable center of APS’s logistical headache. No school in the district had more students stranded. By midnight, a head count determined that 425 students would make their school the place for an eventful and uncomfortable night’s stay. Close to 50 adults – teachers, administrators, school resource officers, and a few Georgia state troopers – spent the night in the school.

For all in the stranded, food was an initial concern. Retrieved milk cartons brought from the school cafeteria were eagerly consumed. With restless students in increasing states of discomfort, enterprising administrators and teachers went back to the school cafeteria. Teachers who had started the day with biology and foreign language lessons for students were – late at night – preparing sandwiches to feed their charges. “We’re here for the kids so we knew right away what we had to do,” said Vice Principal Douglas. “Our first objective was calming them down, ensuring their safety, and then getting them enough to eat.”

Around 11 p.m., after everyone was fed, girls and boys were separated. The girls – along with female teachers – bedded down in the school media center. The men spent the night in the gymnasium. Despite discomforts, a hopeful carnival atmosphere prevailed in the gym. All students were heartened by the news APS had cancelled schools for the subsequent day. While some amused themselves with spontaneous soccer and basketball matches, others settled into spirited conversations on gym bleachers and breezeways. Smart phones were brandished and urgent calls went out to parents, many of whom were stranded on nearby roads and highways. Repeated requests for phone chargers went out. Throughout the evening, vigilant  administrators and teachers ensured students were safe and that spirits were kept as high as could be expected. But along with pick-up ball games and card games on bleachers, there were the inevitable gripes

“It is so uncomfortable because there is no food and I’m so tired,” said Manisha Strozier, a freshman, caught in a pre-dinner moment. “APS should have been prepared and they should have known that this was going to happen. I was having fun earlier but, to be honest, I’m ready to go now. Hopefully my dad will get here soon.”

Students made the best of an unprecedented situation, but there were plenty of raw feelings among the stranded. “I view it all as pretty unprofessional,” said Majeste’ Hansberry, a freshman. “The whole APS school system is to blame for this one. This is kind of dangerous with all these students here. And all they gave us was chocolate milk.”

Minutes after his complaint, Hansberry and all other students were ushered into the cafeteria for teacher-prepared turkey sandwiches and pepper-seasoned fries.

Despite abiding frustration, most students kept the right perspective about an unwieldy situation, “No, we’re not comfortable, but we have a good group of kids at our school. Everyone is making the best out of bad situation and there’s a lot of positive in that,” Justin Young, a senior.

Teachers who stayed the night were impressed with the overwhelmingly cooperative behavior witnessed. “The kids have been great. For such unusual circumstances, they have performed beyond what should be expected of them,” said Blaine Harris, a biology and physical science teacher. “And it’s great when you see them left to their own devices they find something to do,” he said, noting the spirited sports competitions before him.

While the girls bedded down in their temporary media center home, the boys in the gym made their way toward offered wrestling mats where game attempts at sleep were made. And despite that prospect for rest, a significant number opted for no sleep at all. Midnight basketball became a night-long pastime. A dribbling basketball became the night’s signature sound. This marathon of hoops impressed those who witnessed it and entertained the hearty who participated. “I love basketball, so I never get tired when I play it,” said Aaron Sails, a junior.

By 7:30 a.m. a first ever all-nighter in the new North Atlanta was broken by an announcement. Breakfast – a meal again prepared by teachers – would be on its way soon.

By 11 a.m. on Wednesday morning, students were still stranded and awaiting news about when – or if – APS and Marta buses would arrive to take them home. The city-wide gridlock had the potential to extend their trials even longer. Because of shifting information and dangerously icy roads, no one could predict much about longed-for rides away. But there was one predication that was bound to hold true. No student who endured Snowmageddon 2014 would ever forget the experience.