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When Tabari Wallace began his drive to survey the condition of his high school on Friday afternoon, the West Craven principal worried. Last year, after Hurricane Florence rained on the county for days, there was significant damage waiting for him when he did a similar survey.

“I was worried, because you got to remember now we still have Florence in the background,” Wallace said. “It’s still behind us and I’m like, what am I gonna see?”

Wallace, like principals across Craven County, met district maintenance personnel at his school at 1 p.m. on Friday, checking every room. He saw hardly no damage to the main buildings and only minor damage to the agriculture education program’s farm. Importantly, he saw all the animals housed on campus were fine.

Hurricane Dorian raged along the Atlantic Coast and, in many eastern North Carolina communities, produced more fear than damage. For Wallace, and many in this region, it served as a practice drill for the storm to come — as well as a reminder that emotions are still somewhat fragile when it comes to preparing for rough weather.

Wallace peeks out the window to check on “his animals,” a collection of goats, pigs, chickens, and others cared for by the school’s ag ed students. Rupen Fofaria/EducationNC

“Actually, this was kind of a dry run because you know there’s two more out there,” Wallace said of two so-called Cape Verde storms that are roaming the Atlantic. “Administrators, you know, we’re always trying to look upstream and around the corner. So after [a walk-through] is done, you want to make sure you get the repairs done first, and then you keep your eyes on the next one. But as you go through it more and more, the more and more conditioned the children get. So it’s a mixed blessing with this happening right here.”

Wallace walked West Craven with his assistant principal, Montrell Lee, and a small team of school faculty. They visited each room in each building to assess any damage, carrying flashlights because the power was out when they arrived. Fortunately, the main buildings had minor damage — some cracked windows in the media center and small amounts of water infiltration through a row of windows on the west side of the school.

Over the weekend, administrators wrote up work orders and began the paperwork for getting repairs done. Fortunately, however, schools are open today.

“This is a unique situation because last year we went through so much,” Wallace said. “The kids were out really for four weeks and then they came back and it was still kind of traumatic because we had the elementary school with us. So that was about a six-week swing from normalcy for them.”

“This time they were only out two days, and they’re going to come back and it’s almost like a rebound effect. It’s almost like — phew. It gives you appreciation for being lucky in a storm because being here on the east we take storms, until last year, with a grain of salt because they usually blow through here like they did last night and then go away. Last year traumatized us so much, we were actually counting our blessings.”

During first period, students are helping teachers and staff undo preparation — unpacking boxes, unwrapping electrical equipment, and moving furniture and equipment back into place. After that, it’s back to learning.

“The kids are extremely helpful,” Wallace said. “They spend seven hours a day here, five days a week for 185 days. So this is really their second home. The kids are going to come and they have to get back comfortable. So we won’t belabor the fact that they just endured a storm. First period, we’re probably taking everything down, making sure the classrooms are instruction-ready, and then try to return to a sense of normalcy for the children.”

For Wallace and his team, though the damage was minor, it won’t be an immediate turn-around from the storm. With more weather systems brewing, the time to get repairs done is now.

“We will still be doing reports, talking to the county, talking to district people and maintenance people,” Wallace said. “We’ll make sure what we saw today is taken care of as fast as we can.”

Wallace said he’s grateful Hurricane Dorian didn’t have the impact of previous storms, like Florence. He’s happy the community got to have a dry run for storm preparation without extensive loss to the school or community. But he cautions everyone that while this experience ends in relief, it should serve to improve preparations for the next storm — not lessen them.

“What does worry me and probably any other administrator is getting lulled into a sense of complacency,” he said. “You know, here we go again — it’s just going to blow through. We don’t ever want to do that, because you never know when we have the next big one like we had last year.”

Rupen Fofaria

Rupen Fofaria is the equity and learning differences reporter at EducationNC who is passionate about shining light on under-reported issues.