Fort Wayne, Ind. — In what we now call ''the flood of 1982,'' schoolteachers and their students worked together making sandbags, building dikes, helping flooded-out citizens in shelters, and making food for workers.
Half the community's high school students were involved. Two thousand school personnel were involved. Seventy-four school buses drove 10,580 miles, carrying 41,000 persons on 658 trips. One hundred food service personnel worked 400 hours , supplying food to evacuees and workers.
When an event in a school or its community breaks the pattern of life as it usually is, a historical moment has occurred, and a teaching moment is available. It may be anything, from a winning ballgame to a flooded town.
To expect students to return to business as usual, ignoring what is happening in the community, is to surrender a great opportunity. A survey of teachers in the Fort Wayne Community Schools reveals wide acceptance of Fort Wayne's flood of 1982 as built-in motivation for academic tasks following the completion of their herioc physical contribution to the community.
One high school student, covering for her school newspaper the arrival of President Reagan to inspect flooded areas, looked across the airport to see a tornado approaching. Her pictures of the funnel cloud were later purchased by an international news service.
Another student took pictures of ironic signs. A boat, moored by a flooded front porch, showed a sign in the background, ''No Thru Traffic.'' Another sign advertised ''Riverside Motors,'' completely flooded. A stop sign was shown almost up to its top in water.
Many students wrote about interviews with flooded residents, public officials , and those whom the flood inspired to help others. One class in sociology analyzed values revealed by what people brought away with them from their flooded homes.
Interviews of residents in shelters and news stories about flood victims prompted a discussion about what students would take in similar situations and the values revealed by their choices.
Newspapers published during the week of the flooding and a souvenir section published by a local newspaper were the source of many assignments. Students and their teachers, who were such an important part of dike building, had firsthand experiences for composition assignments when they returned to the classroom.
Government classes were assigned to review the actions of each city official during the flood. Other groups investigated government help available to those who suffered flood damage.
Students surveyed applicants for disaster assistance gathered together at an unused high school building where all agencies involved in aiding flood victims could be easily contacted. From this experience students gained a new and more positive view of government and its activities.
Some classes began a study of how the city needs to change the use of flood plains and build dikes to avoid future floods. Others wrote directions and made booklets for residents who were repairing homes, cars, and musical instruments -- telling them what to do and what not to do with flooded belongings in order to restore them.
One student investigated what was being done by local humane organizations to help stranded pets and make it possible for flooded-out owners to get them back.
One class went to the city library and read microfilms of old newspapers about previous floods -- only to find that newspaper reporters were there reading the same articles!
Some teachers and students began to look at new ways to approach social studies. Had they been learning about government without constant reference to how government operates in the lives of students?
Were they studying sociology without starting with the neighborhoods in their own city? Some did not know that more than two dozen neighborhood associations operated in their own town.
Had they been studying economics without reference to the local economy?
Some history classes decided to start each class with a relevant local current event in order to underline how important the study of history is to understanding today's world.
Our flood brought destruction, yes. But it also brought to our schools a flood of good teaching ideas.