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Podcast Features Faculty, Alumni Responding to Tornadoes

Photo of teacher Emmaleigh Johnston, ’20, with student
Class of 2020 elementary education alumna Emmaleigh Johnston, a first grade teacher at Greenville Elementary in Muhlenberg County.

As news broke early Saturday about the level of devastation caused by tornadoes in Western Kentucky, the University of Kentucky College of Education community began to reach out to one another.

“The first thing that morning, our dean emailed us to check on us and to check on our students and to please let him know personally of students in our college that were impacted, any of our graduates, and what we could do to help,” said Joni Meade, an elementary education instructor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction.

Meade connected with several alumni who teach in Western Kentucky, and two of them, Macy Laswell, ’16, and Emmaleigh Johnston, ’20, joined her on the podcast BustED Pencils to talk about how schools and teachers are playing a role in caring for the communities they serve (listen to the podcast).

“I’ve seen my community step together and really respond to what we saw in the northern part of the county,” said Johnston, who teaches first grade at Greenville Elementary in Muhlenberg County.

Laswell spent the early morning hours sheltering in place with her infant in Warren County while her husband worked in a local emergency room. Although her home was not taken by the tornadoes, houses nearby were destroyed and Laswell was without power. Once she reached a friend’s house with electricity, she reached out to the parents of every student in her class at Rich Pond Elementary, just as Johnston had, and learned they had all been spared.

“The thing that warmed my heart so much was that several of my parents sent me pictures of students in my class who were already at homes and at the volunteer site trying to help other students in our district. And that just made my teacher heart so happy because my students were some of those on the front line helping those who lost their homes and weren’t as fortunate as we were,” Laswell said on the podcast.

photo of teacher Macy Laswell standing in front of her classroom door
Elementary Education alumna Macy Laswell, ’16, stands in front of her classroom door at Rich Pond Elementary in Warren County.

Laswell has been volunteering to take care of children at a Red Cross shelter set up in a school while parents who lost everything work to piece their lives back together. There, she encountered families sleeping in cots in the gymnasium. Some had infants and had lost even the basics such as diapers, wipes, and formula.

“One of my students, her and her mom were there donating tons of baby items. It was just very heartwarming to see the love and compassion our community is showing to these people who have lost their homes and I feel like it’s really hard to completely grasp what’s going on until you’re in it,” Laswell said.

The tornadoes are a disruption to student learning, along with the COVID-19 pandemic that continues to impact schools and communities.

Johnston graduated from the UK College of Education with a degree in elementary education one year ago. Her entire practicum and student teaching experience took place during the height of COVID-19 school closures.

“We worked with local schools to keep their training going, but Emmy’s entire experience was online learning,” Meade said. “She was still at the school every day with her cooperating teacher but having to adjust the way she was teaching. She graduated in December and immediately got a job teaching 5th grade back in Muhlenburg County. So, she gets this year started and now a tornado has hit. We have talked about that. She is like ‘I have gone from starting my career in the height of Covid to now my kids witnessing a tornado.’”

BustED Pencils podcast host Dr. Tim Slekar used Johnston and Laswell’s stories to remind listeners that educators are the hearts and souls of communities, stepping up to lead during difficult circumstances.

To join the college’s relief effort, bring items to Meade’s office in 341 Dickey Hall by 5 p.m. Friday, Dec. 17.

The following info was emailed to college faculty, students, and staff by UK College of Education Dean Julian Vasquez Heilig on Sunday, Dec. 12. It includes additional ways to help:

Our community’s first reaction was shock and horror as we struggled to grasp the swath of destruction left by the early Saturday morning extreme weather.


This was swiftly overtaken by echoes of one question: How can we help? Below is a sampling of ways you can assist tornado victims. Please join me in reaching out as you are able.


To all in the College of Education community affected by the devastating storms, we extend our deep condolences and encourage you to reach out to the UK Counseling Center at 859-257-8701.


Our thoughts are with all of those impacted by this weather tragedy. Please see below a set of resources currently available to help.


Fund Drives

Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund


American Red Cross
redcross.org, 1-800-RED-CROSS or text REDCROSS to 90999


Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund established by UK College of Medicine student Abbi Rawls of Bowling Green gofundme.com/f/ukcom-student-effort-for-tornado-relief-in-ky


United Way of Kentucky


Blood Drives

To donate blood in your area: https://www.redcrossblood.org/donate-blood/how-to-donate/eligibility-requirements.html


Volunteer in Person

Call the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management at 311 or fill out a survey at https://survey123.arcgis.com/share/02e24e0e3ddd4d158a21aaf9a0973384