ATLANTA — An elementary school teacher is describing how an early dismissal turned into an emergency when a tornado warning was issued for Fulton County Thursday.
At Drew Charter Academy, dismissal is usually at 3:45 p.m.
Jere Chang, an education influencer and elementary school gifted teacher said she was aware of the day's severe weather threat -- but didn't know how quickly the storm would hit.
The educator, affectionately known to her students and her one million social media followers as Ms. Chang, said teachers and staff were told to begin dismissing students at 3 p.m.
"It was just totally chill. Parents are pulling up in carpool, it was a little cloudy outside and it barely started to rain," Chang said.
Chang said the carpool lane was full of parents working to pick up their children before the worst of the weather hit.
In unison, phones chimed with Fulton County's tornado warning. Chang said the situation became quickly ominous.
"Everything changed," she said.
Administrators asked parents to abandon their cars and rushed the families inside the building.
"But that meant parents, the high school kids, our kids, us," Chang described.
Chang said the repeated tornado drills were done throughout the year and students and staff knew what to do. The challenge was trying to follow the blueprint with more people.
"I mean we do tornado drills frequently, but not with parents," Chang said. "And some parents were reluctant because they just wanted to go home."
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Nonetheless, the families and students were ushered into safety. Administrators -- and Chang -- helped secure a hallway, closing all doors and making sure people were sheltered.
Chang said that was just the first challenge -- the next would be reuniting families.
And she started with hers first.
"Mama bear came out in me - I found my kids," Chang, a mother of two said.
She also helped some other parents and called teachers to help connect parents to their children. It was an added layer that often isn't practiced during drills, she said.
"We had parents in the hall but their children were somewhere else," she said.
With radios to help communicate and students remaining calm, families were able to reunite and weather out the storm together. The National Weather Service canceled the warning around 3:55 p.m. with Chang describing the whole scenario playing out in less than an hour.
Ultimately - Chang said - the tornado drills worked.
It was a moment of bravery for Chang, who said under usual circumstances she wouldn't be excited to jump into action over storm alerts.
"I'm terrified of storms," Chang said.
The teacher said though there was a heads up about the storms and she received alerts about the weather -- when it actually hit, it brought a new sense of reality.
"That happens almost every week in Atlanta, I'm just used to that -- I'm numb to that," Chang said about the previous weather alerts. It was the phone alert going off during dismissal that changed the game.
"The quickness of it," she said. "That's what I guess was the scariest part."
Chang posted about the experience on her social media channels. People can follow Ms. Chang on TikTok @mschanggifted or on Instagram @mschanggifted.