By Morgan Grant, CEI Intern
Editiorial note. Hurricanes Harvey and Maria, the wildfires in California, and other natural disasters wreck havoc on communities. In addition to the lost of lives and injuries, the disasters bring millions of concerns as people go about the clean-up and start rebuilding their lives. Here are some thoughts for schools.
Hurricane Harvey was one of the most intense storms to have hit Texas in recent years. Schools in Houston, Texas are working hard to prevent the storm from having a lasting impact on students’ academic and emotional well-being. They have realized that right now is a critical time period to help children process the aftermath of the event.
Counseling and Other Supports. To start off the new school year, Houston schools have provided students with crisis counselors to help with coping management and emotional stability. They have even started a three-meal-a-day program to provide every student with meals regardless of financial background. Some schools have partnered with local neighborhoods to conduct food and clothing drives, whereas other schools with surplus resources have provided extra supplies and uniforms to students in dire need (Balingit & Svrluga, 2017; Waldron, 2017; Weller, 2017).
Teachers have gotten creative and have let their classrooms become an open space for students, allowing them to share survivor stories and express themselves. The biggest focus for many schools is finding a balance between acknowledging the crisis and establishing a routine, so students are able to adjust properly (CBS News, 2017).
Rising Up in a Time of Adversity. Jen Barnhart, an English teacher at KIPP Houston High School, states “For me, this goes so far beyond classroom lessons. This is a lesson about how you help your community and how you rise up in a time of adversity” (Balingit & Svrluga, 2017).
Because of the data we have on the aftermaths of natural disasters and their effects on education, schools in Houston understand how trauma can harm students. Educators recognize that implementing a plan to reduce the effects of trauma may help them:
- Retain student attendance rates
- Reduce behavioral problems
- Maintain academic achievement
- Increase self-esteem and confidence.
Challenges. Not knowing how long the hurricane’s damage will affect students is one challenging aspect for schools’ post-disaster management. From the post-Katrina research, it has been suggested that the school systems in Houston maintain a long-term support system for students.
Dr. Michael Ward, an education professor at the University of Southern Mississippi who has studied the effects of Hurricane Katrina, stresses the importance of tracking students who are sent to schools outside of their initial district. He says “Unless there’s a system for keeping track of kids who were displaced, the next school year they may end up with a teacher who doesn’t know they experienced that sort of trauma. Two years out, five years out, it’s kind of old history — except for the kids” (Waldron, 2017).
Another challenge schools face is money. With a limited budget, schools may not have enough funds to implement long-term crisis prevention programs. While Texas (and now Florida), have been receiving money through FEMA and other organizations, it is unknown how long this money will last. As of right now, it will not be enough to fully support all crisis prevention programs.
At the moment, students who are the most at risk from long-term trauma are minorities and those from low-income families. These students and their communities are less likely to have an effective post-disaster plan, which puts them at a further disadvantage. Students in these areas are more likely to struggle academically and emotionally due to the lack of financial support and likelihood of displacement. Learning how to better serve these populations can improve the school system’s disaster management plan for all students (Waldron, 2017; Weller, 2017).
Balingit, M. & Svrluga, S. (2017). Hurricane Harvey shutters hundreds of Texas schools. Washington Post.
Waldron, T. (2017). Harvey Damaged At Least 200 Houston Schools. Huffington Post.
Weller, C. (2017). Hurricane Harvey is keeping over 200,000 kids out of school, and that could have long-term consequences. Business Insider.