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Cary Smith had picked up his son Jordan, 13, and daughter Tia, 5, from school on Monday, right before the tornado came through Moore. He and the family live close to Plaza Elementary, and he ran to the school to help pull a teacher and three kids from the rubble in the aftermath of the tornado. (Katie Hayes Luke for NPR)

After The Storm: Students Gather For One More School Day

May 23, 2013 (All Things Considered)

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David Huffman leaves Eastlake Elementary with his children Moira, 8, and Wendy, 5. Moira attends Eastlake, and Wendy will start kindergarten there next year. Sixth-grader Mckayla Franks leaves Eastlake Elementary with her mother, Summer Franks. Students and teachers from the Eastlake and Plaza Towers Elementary schools gathered at Eastlake on Thursday to say goodbye for the summer. It was a chance to reconnect after a devastating tornado brought an abrupt end to the school year at Plaza Towers, in Moore, Okla. Amber Hill leaves Eastlake with her son Jaren May. Jaren was in the autism program at Plaza Towers and went through the tornado with his teacher and fellow students. Jaren came out Thursday carrying a balloon, a goody bag and a brand-new backpack to replace the one he lost in Monday's tornado. Students and teachers from Eastlake Elementary and Plaza Towers Elementary schools gathered Thursday to say goodbye for the summer. This was a chance to reconnect after the devastating tornado brought an abrupt end to the school year at Plaza Towers in Moore, Okla.

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Under cloudy skies and through intermittent showers, 4-year-old Kamrin Ramirez holds in her little hands two cards, one addressed to Ms. Patterson, the other for Ms. Johnson, her two preschool teachers at Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Okla.

"I write thank you so much," she says.

Plaza Towers was obliterated by Monday's powerful twister, and seven children died beneath the rubble there. Students whose schools were destroyed were able to meet up Thursday with their teachers in other Moore schools.

Kamrin's mother, Carly, says she attended Plaza Towers as a girl, and was looking for closure.

"I want to go hug my old teachers. I know she wants to hug hers," she says. "And it's just, it's important as a mom to do this with her so that she has some peace of mind that her teachers are actually OK; she can physically see 'em."

Plaza Towers sixth-grader Jordan Smith calls the abrupt, chaotic way his school year ended "pretty harsh."

"It was bad," he adds.

Jordan, 13, says it's good to see his classmates and teachers one more time away from the devastation before moving onto junior high.

Amber Hill brought her son, 5-year-old Jaren May, to see his teachers.

She says there were "a lot of, 'I'm so glad you're OK, I'm glad you made it.' Showing your battle scars. There are a lot of injuries in there.

"A lot of the teachers took a lot of the trauma by shielding the kids from the storm."

Jaren came out carrying a balloon, a goody bag and a brand-new backpack to replace the one he lost in the tornado. Other kids slurped on blue or red slushies, raced each other and splashed in puddles, acting like kids again.

Hill says it was important for Jaren, who's in the school's autism program, to see his teachers after the chaos of their last moments together.

"He's not fully comprehending what happened, and to see their faces and to hug them and say I love you — because he's a very loving child; to be able to do all that is a big comfort to him," she says.

Hill says it's a new beginning for Jaren and for the other kids, too — and an important part of the healing process for the entire community that lost so much Monday afternoon.

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