A power outage Feb. 21 didn't stop students in Scott Nelsen's pre-calculus class from completing their quiz.
By the light of their cellphones, the Brookfield Central High School students continued on.
"We were just trying to be flexible," Nelsen said. "Every now and then I encourage my students to use technology. I asked, 'Does everyone have their cellphones?' and all the kids got excited. It was good bonding for the class; it was just a nice moment in teaching when I have fun along with the kids.
"We joked later that we should start having Flashlight Fridays every week."
Nelsen later tweeted a photo of his students working with their cellphones and the image spread throughout the student community.
"I used the USA-Canada (hockey) game to light up my test," tweeted one student in response to the photo.
Brookfield Central High School and Fairview South School were the only buildings in the Elmbrook School District to lose power for 90 minutes that Friday morning.
Fairview South, which educates people with special needs, decided to dismiss its students for the day due to concerns about whether health equipment that would not be operable during the power outage, Superintendent Mark Hansen said.
"Determining what to do during a power outage is very situational," Hansen said. "We have to consider the time of day when the outage happens, when the power may return and the level of lighting available.
"We ultimately began the process of dismissing Fairview South students due to medical concerns and the status of equipment we may need for them."
Brookfield Central students, however, were not excused from school.
"Things went as smoothly as they could have," Brookfield East Principal Brett Gruetzmacher said. "Classes continued and the only thing that really changed was a slight alteration to the lunch schedule.
"Luckily, most of our classrooms have windows, and it was a nice, sunny day."
Gruetzmacher said that when power goes out, the school first contacts We Energies to identify the problem and when power may be available again.
"The important thing is to keep the kids safe, and they were safe here," Gruetzmacher said.
The school has a back-up generator that turns on the emergency lights.
Heat was temporarily shut off due to the power outage, but Gruetzmacher said the temperature could not have dropped dramatically from the building's typical 70 degrees during the hour and a half.
Brookfield Central contacted Wisconsin Hills Middle School to seek assistance with providing food to the students, if needed. Fortunately, Gruetzmacher said, that was not necessary.
In case of power outages — or other occurrences that affect school functions — it's normal for one school to seek assistance from another, he said.
"Even if it's a school outside of the Elmbrook School District and they need help, we'll do what we can to provide that for their students," he added.
Keeping in touch
Power outages are often temporary and do not require school cancellation, but when other situations — such as a burst water main — affect a building, other aspects need to be taken into account.
"If there's no water, there's no school," Gruetzmacher said. "If the sinks don't run and the toilets don't flush, then we have to cancel because it's a health concern."
Throughout the power outage, Gruetzmacher shared updates by both text and Tweet.
"Parents often sign up for the text message (notifications), but several students follow me on Twitter … and help dispel rumors (about school cancellations)," he said.
"The students behaved very well and resumed their work," he said. "If anything, the power outage just added a little more drama to the day."
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