It was, as they say, a teachable moment.
"I knew I wanted to have the kids write about it," Burger said. "And after I read some of their stories, I knew that people in the community would appreciate reading them. They were very honest. The other thing that shone through was that they were optimistic."
Ninth graders through seniors tackled the assignment: where they were, what they were doing, what they thought and felt and experienced when their world changed so abruptly. It took some time to collect and edit the stories, but many of them have been assembled now in a soft-cover booklet titled "Our Turn: Tales of the Tornado."
If Northwood had a best-seller list, "Tales" would be at the top.
"I drop 100 copies off at the grocery store, and they call a few days later and say they need more," Burger said.
Callie Berg didn't just write about the tornado; she became the tornado and spoke as the storm to the people of her town -- apologizing for the damage she caused, but also reminding everyone that some good may have come of the tempest.
"I took your fences," she wrote. "Every last one ... Not only did I take away the physical wood and metal fences. I took away your social order and combined all people of Northwood into a single body."
Gone are "frivolous thinking and insignificant concerns," Berg wrote. "Without your societal hierarchy, you have a fresh strength in your union rather than vast division amongst you."
At first, Beth Segerholm lamented the loss of trees. "I used to spend hours in those trees behind my old house, but now they were scattered everywhere on yards and houses."
Later, it was still difficult "to realize that Northwood, the place where I became who I am, the foundation of who I will become, will never be the same." But despite all that was lost, "the heart of Northwood will go on forever," she wrote. "I could see it that night in the spirit of all those who came to help, even through the confusion."
'We were untouchable'
There was much fear and uncertainty in the immediate aftermath. "I wondered if I would ever feel whole again," Haley Pratt wrote. Others wrote of how they worried about friends and relatives: "Dad was nowhere to be seen."
Cory Hajicek, a senior, looked at a gaping hole in the wall where he had been a first grader and thought, "We were untouchable in those days." But no more.
Audrey Bilden told of opening a door, after the tornado had passed, expecting to see her family's new deck and the neighbor's garden. "What I saw when I opened the door was the other side of the block. No more windows to look through, no more trees to block the view. No more roof on my neighbor's house."
Mike Lyste wrote, "It was weird being able to see from one side of town to the other."
For Diedra Krauter, "The saddest part was walking into the school. I saw the letter 'L' lying on the ground. The letter was from what used to say 'Welcome Back' on the windows above the doors.
"I know we say we hate school at times, but having to see the school you have gone to all your life in such a bad condition was sad and depressing."
The students wrote of the stark reality of the tornado -- "We were all stunned by the fact that it was right there," Ryan Korsmo wrote. "We were seeing it." And they wrote about struggling to find a way to survive the days after.
"Humor was key because it gave us the energy to keep going, to look past the condition of the town, to not dwell on what had happened," Danielle Gorres wrote. "We went out of our way and took time to do silly things, such as dancing on tree stumps ... and singing in the most horrible voices."
Jaden Johnson wrote of the gratitude he felt for relatives who came from Minneapolis, Fargo and Detroit Lakes, Minn., and "three volunteers we didn't know," to help with the cleanup. "It made me feel so good to see that everyone cared so much."
Similarly, Andrea Uglem found reassurance in the spirit of her neighbors. "To see everyone working hard and not feeling sorry for themselves made me realize that yes, in fact, we are a strong community, and yes, in fact, we will persevere."
The booklet sells for , with proceeds to go toward English Department programs at Northwood High School. Copies are available at several Northwood stores and by writing to the school at Box 250, Northwood, ND 58267.
Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send e-mail to .