RED OAK — As Shields Elementary Principal Shondra Jones stood in front of more than 40 of her teachers, she tried to hold back the tears. She tried to save face, because the same people she led were the same people providing her support in one of Red Oak ISD’s most vulnerable weeks of the school year.

“When I look at them, I see strength. That’s where I get my strength from because I know they’re looking to me, but I look to them. I don’t know if they realize that, but I get my strength from them,” Jone said. “Knowing that we’re all coming together for the good of the students and for each other, when I saw that, I said ‘You all look great.’ It’s because I know that’s the strength.”

She was referring to the T-shirts, auburn with #ShieldsStrong printed in white on the front and the white shirts with #ROISDstrong printed in the same red on the back, worn during a staff meeting Monday morning. With the hashtag, teachers presented a united front as they sat in the library of the Shields on Live Oak campus, converted from an empty middle school to a temporary elementary campus about a week ago by more than 700 community volunteers after an EF-3 tornado severely damaged the Donald T. Shields Elementary building, located at 223 W. Ovilla Road in Red Oak, the night after Christmas.

While the teachers discussed plans on how Tuesday, the first day back at school from winter break, would go, they didn’t expect the financial surprise from Citizen National Bank employees. In the amount of $250 each, CNB representatives gave 43 gift cards to teachers to make their classrooms as comfortable as possible as the children transitioned onto the new campus. The amount matched the $250 given by the school district to each teacher and staff member last week for the same purpose, said Caroline Ford, CNB’s marketing director.

“When we first heard about it, everyone at the bank was asking what we could do,” Ford said, adding CNB representatives reached out to Red Oak ISD Superintendent Scott Niven to see how to help. “We said let’s do it for the teachers that way the most people could be impacted in the classrooms. I’ve taught school, and you put so much money and time into it, and we thought this could help them replace some of things they lost as well. I teared up. You could see on their faces they were appreciative and it meant a lot to them.”

When the storm blew through, the original campus took a direct hit, according to a previous Daily Light article.

“There are some walls that were blown out, some A/C units are gone, the roof,” Niven said in the article, adding some of the missing brick walls made it possible to see straight into classrooms. “Everything back to the iron structure will have to be redone in some places.”

Volunteers spent hours painting and revamping the Live Oak campus, moving furniture into the building and bringing supplies and books to help make the building ready for incoming children. Even the school’s website and building front reflect the change to make the transition as smooth as possible, with the new address posted and a new banner standing out front.

During the meeting, teachers were even presented with any salvageable nameplates to hang over classroom doors. Not all were saved, and some were bent and bowed from the 145-155 mph winds that came through. Red Oak ISD officials even presented a slab of wood from the original campus to the teachers, hand painted with “Shields Strong.” The sign and others saved from the debris will hang throughout the main office and cafeteria, Jones said, adding the sign placed in the cafeteria will go on a wall honoring all the volunteers.

“That was huge. I’ve been surprised a lot today,” Jones said. “They hadn’t finished it. That’s just how it was. I think that’s important.”

As teachers wiped their eyes, hugged and headed back to their classrooms to prep for Tuesday morning, Jones said the way the community came together to help the school recover was the epitome of not only being #ShieldsStrong, but #RedOakStrong.

“#ShieldsStrong means we’re resilient. We don’t alter in the face of destruction. We stand together no matter what. #ShieldsStrong means family,” Jones said. “When I first heard about the damage, my reaction was ‘Thank goodness there was no one in that building.’ I knew there was no one in that building for a fact, because when I knew the storms were coming, I texted my staff and they all checked back in with me. Just from our district’s stand point, I knew what family meant, because we’ve come together before in other ways. To see the outpouring of the community, the outpouring of love and prayers, I was overwhelmed. I am very grateful, and very humble. I think when I saw my students in that building, helping because they wanted to be there, that showed what it’s all about. Ultimately, it’s about them and they wanted to be apart of that and that’s their home. To see them there, I knew we were all doing the right thing and we would be fine.”

The children will also receive #ShieldsStrong shirts either on the first day back or throughout the week, Jones said, adding this too was a surprise from the district. She laughed and said she’ll have to remind teachers and students that the stay at the Live Oak campus is only temporary — an extended field trip or an adventure. And while the staff, administrators, students and parents finish the next six months at the revamped campus, Jones said next fall, everyone will return to the original campus, but finding familiarity in the halls of Shields on Live Oak is just as important as ever, for both teachers and students.

That familiarity even includes the school’s quiet room, dedicated to Mickey Elrod, a Shields Elementary instructional coach and teacher who lost her life to cancer early in the year. The room has now been set up in the temporary campus’ library in her honor.

“She was our cheerleader. She was our inspiration, and so her room became a memorial, where you could go in and just meditate or sit quietly and think,” she said. “That was important for our staff. It was important for our healing, and I wanted that to come here because we have more healing to do. We’ve suffered a lot this year, and I wanted everything to be as normal as possible, because we’re not just Shields strong. We’re not just Red Oak ISD strong. We are Red Oak strong, and I want the community to know I am very, very grateful for everything they have done — for the outpouring of support and the commitment made to us.”

Contact Shelly Conlon at 469-517-1456 or email sconlon@waxahachietx.com. Follow her on Twitter @shellyconlonwdl. Like the Daily Light on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/waxahachiedailylight or on Twitter @WaxahachieNews.