Today was a first for me as a teacher. On our way to a field trip, two parent drivers with cars full of students were involved in a car accident.
The car I was in began to brake (due to traffic we presumed), but up ahead I could see three cars stopped in the fast lane. We moved to the slow lane and noticed three more cars pulled off to the right shoulder. The parent in my car had no sooner voiced, “I hope it’s not us,” than we saw one of our moms out of her car and one of the damaged cars as one of ours too.
I’m not sure how I thought the whole thing through or perhaps I was just going from moment to moment, but it was crystal clear that the kids were my responsibility, and I needed to be out there for them.
Myself and another driver of a car involved helped me get the kids from the damaged car in the fast lane to the right shoulder grass. It was then I registered the tears of my students, the red faces and the worried looks. No one was visibly hurt, but emotionally, they were shaken.
No, look closer, one student has a bloody mouth. I called 911. An ambulance was on the way. It seemed like the reasonable thing to do. No one looked seriously injured but was it my call to make as the dust settled and the scene was surveyed. No. Professionals were needed on the scene.
One student was already on his cell phone leaving a crying message for mom. Another wanted desperately to call his mom even though he could hardly talk he was so upset. I called the office at school to keep them abreast since parents might begin phoning. One bloody lip, everyone else is ok.
I sent two kids with the first car (only a bump to the bumper), and two kids with the car I had been in. Off they went to the field trip. Debriefing with their peers, crying a bit, using the driver’s cell phone… they were going to be fine. My fellow sixth grade teacher was way ahead of us, and I knew she would take good care of my students in my absence.
The bloody lip (the tooth had cut in) and slight bloody nose stayed with me. The paramedic checked him over, we spoke with mom on the phone and signed off that an ambulance wasn’t necessary. He was feeling better.
Meanwhile, the CHP were doing their thing–talking with drivers, taking statements, moving cars, sweeping up debris. At this point I could count: 6 cars, 2 ambulances, 2 CHP cars, 2 motorcycle CHP and 2 tow trucks. Did I mention the freeway had come to a complete stop?
As drivers were allowed to leave the scene and tow trucks arrived to move disabled cars, the four of us could breath a bit. The parent and her son stayed close; my slightly injured student stayed by my side, and we waited to see what would happen next. I was instructed as to information necessary to forward to CHP regarding students in the 2 involved cars. My student and I were offered a ride back to school by Officer Heinlein. The parent and her son stayed to wait for the tow truck and her husband who was on the way.
The three of us chatted on our way back to school. Have you ever been in a police car, Mrs. Haugen? Where do you work, Officer? Do you know where our school is? Can we turn the lights on? Lite chit-chat was just what we all needed. I checked in again with school to account for the whereabouts of all students, and we were back in short order.
My student’s mom was there to take him home and I headed to the office to make phone calls and send emails.
5:30 pm… I think the whole thing turned out well. A crunched car, a bloody lip and some tears. I’m thankful it was just that. A first for me and hopefully an only.
Thank you to our parent drivers who remain calm and collected while caring for our students on field trips, even amidst the unexpected.