Nelson County students get lesson on Hurricane Camille through literature

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NELSON COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ7) - This day 50 years ago, students in Nelson County were waking up to the news that friends, neighbors and classmates had been killed.
Many were swept from their beds overnight when Hurricane Camille bore down.

Five decades later, Nelson County High School teachers are showing students how their past and their present merge.

Nelson County English teacher Jennifer Campbell is taking a page from history this semester.

"There's not been one student that's like, 'Oh my gosh this is so boring,'" she said. "Every single person is asking questions and focused because it's real to them."

Campbell is introducing Camille to her curriculum: the deadly Hurricane that swept through Nelson County long before her students were even born.

Her classes are reading 'Roar of the Heavens', a nonfiction account of the storm by Stefan Bechtel. But this lesson is far more than words on a page. She's got photos from friends and family, documentaries, newspaper clippings and people: guest speakers who witnessed the storm firsthand.

"It is very interesting," said sophomore Madelyn Morris. "It's unlike anything I've learned about for sure."

Morris has deep roots in Nelson County. She said her grandfather was a senior in high school at the time. It took him many years to open up about the experience. This lesson for her is one of resiliency.

"I thought, oh it was a natural disaster, people came in, they helped," she said. "But it wasn't like that at first, the people looked out for each other. And I think that was the biggest thing for me."

Morris and her peers are also taking a tour of their school. The walk-through allows them to take a fresh look at familiar places where Hurricane Camille's effects crept in.

“We’ll go out to the football field where some of the football players were dismissed and never made it home," Campbell said. "We'll visit the band room where some band students were dismissed that night and never made it home. We will also probably, if we have time, go to the parking lot. Because the parking lot of the high school was where they kept coolers and it became a sort of makeshift morgue.”

Morris said she was looking at her school in a completely different light.

“We saw one picture of the gym where they held people in cots and it’s just crazy to think you know we’ve held school dances there, I took a gym class there last year," she said. "It’s just crazy to think that this happened in this building and I never really thought about it.”

It's the past superimposed on the present, that Campbell hopes will leave a lasting impression.

"It creates a tie to their personal lives," Campbell said. "And I think that's really important."

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