There are teachers and educators who work tirelessly, day after day, to mold young people and help make the world a better place--and they're definitely everyday heroes in our book. But then there are people like school principal Lisa Hilsenteger, whose heroics went far above and beyond her normal teacher duties recently.
A teacher for 28 years, Hilsenteger was at Father Turcotte Elementary School in downtown Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, where she works, when busloads of students began arriving from other schools that were being evacuated because of the raging wildfires in the area. Many parents arrived to pick up their children, but when it was time for Father Turcotte to evacuate at 4 p.m., 15 children still remained.
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“There’s nothing more terrifying than to be in a crisis and not have your children with you,” said Hilsenteger, who knew her students were getting scared--and that their parents were deeply worried.
With the fires rapidly moving, Hilsenteger knew she had to act fast to get herself and the kids out of the area of the school, so she made a split-second decision: Taping a note to the school’s front door with her name, cell phone number, and a brief message to parents explaining the situation, she and some staff packed up a school bus with snacks and the 15 children and headed to a nearby high school, a normally 10-minute drive that took bus driver Wendy Johnson 90 minutes.
A few relieved parents met their children there, but 12 kids' parents did not. Then the mayor ordered the mandatory evacuation of the city, so Hilsenteger had the bus head north to a camp set-up to help wildfire evacuees. Along the way, she let kids use her cell phone so that parents knew their kids were safe--and even picked up a stranded family of four and a handful of other evacuees who needed rides.
“We had all these children. (Some) of my children were very special needs. They never complained. They never cried. They never asked for food. They never asked for water,” Hilsenteger said later.
The group made it to the camp, but when she saw how overcrowded the camp was becoming, Hilsenteger again had to make the snap decision to load back up the bus and keep the kids moving. By now, it was 2 a.m.
Hilsenteger’s goal was to get the bus to the other side of the city. After dropping off eight more people to meet family and friends, she and her staff members still had a handful of children on board, their parents unreachable.
“We knew even if we ran out of diesel, we were safe. We had a bus to sleep on. We had water,” Hilsenteger said.
It was 10:30 a.m. by the time she rolled up to her father’s house in a nearby town, where the last of the students were reunited with their families.
“We know they have an incredible amount of trust in us each day,” she said of parents. “This was just beyond that.”
That's one hero who parents must be thrilled to have in charge of their kids, wouldn't you say?
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