Post-Storm Challenges for Students and Teachers

“Until I realized: those children didn’t need my lessons. Not right away. Instead, they needed school as a refuge. Refuge from dark stairways and flashlights. Refuge from schlepping wet cardboard boxes out of basements. Refuge from a week of cold dinners and no showers. Our school was dry, warm, well-lighted and normal, and they needed simply to be there.

Despite the awful days and dark nights some of them had been through, my students and I were all astonishingly lucky: none of us lost homes or loved ones. But emotionally, my students were all over the map, and before I could teach anything, or get them to empathize with one another, I needed to understand where they had been and what they had gone through.” – Launa Schweizer

Launa Schweizer, a Brooklyn teacher, has a beautiful blog at the New York Times on how teachers will need to strive to understand the differing experience of students after Hurricane Sandy (and as some damage is about to get compounded by an incoming nor’easter). I particularly appreciate her notes that many teachers are coming from the same place: they’re scared, and confused, and may have been in the dark and lost power, and now they need to try to make sense of their own feelings and experiences while still helping kids through theirs. Not to mention the material losses many of these child have suffered, especially those who already live in less affluent families, as this Ed Week blog explores.

I can’t imagine being responsible for someone else right now–whether your own child or someone else’s in the classroom–because I myself am having such a hard time making sense of my own experience. I’m continually thankful for the safety of my family and friends, and the complete lack of property damage sustained by my home. Some family members suffered much greater losses, making it even harder to get back to normal. I can only remind myself so many times that “well, so many people have it worse, so I should buck up.” Grief, loss, pain, and even just inconvenience are not a convenience, and there is not a finite supply – I’m not using up all the sympathy by lamenting that I haven’t had power in 8 days, and temperatures are getting low, and I’m very worried about my stubborn parents who have refused to stay elsewhere with heat. These are legitimate concerns. It’s possible to balance worry and sadness for those who lost more, and the desire to help them, and the frustration at not knowing how to do that, while still finding time for my own sadness. It’s possible but I haven’t managed it yet, and I’m an adult, so I can only imagine the immense challenges children are facing right now, and how this will impact them in the classroom.

We had the news on when a friend’s 3-year-old was watching the other day, and the combination of how difficult it was for her to understand, and her great concern for “who will build the houses again,” had me near tears. We need to try to reach kids at their level to help them make sense of what’s going on.

Can anyone point to resources to help kids through such tough, hard to understand times, both in the classroom and out?

UPDATES:

– Some words of wisdom from my uncle, a teacher at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, where he’s had quite a bit of experience with hurricanes: “Try talking to them like your own kids/family. Be calm, be sensitive and be reassuring; this will pass. Sandy is not the first, last, or worst storm that has impacted the world or even the US. I have had students who walked out into their living room from the bathroom and saw stars as the eye of Andrew passed over. Another watched the walls of his closet breathe like a lung during Charlie. The worst is over. Guardian angels do the hard work.”

– I had literally just hit publish when Nirvi Shah at Education Week shared Arne Duncan’s Tweet on FEMA resources to helping kids cope with disaster. I found it particularly useful that FEMA offers suggestions and children’s likely reactions based on age ranges.

– Another blog based on age groups–signs of stress after trauma by age, and how to focus on those children’s needs.

Stephanie Schmit at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) has pulled together a great resource list for helping kids cope with disaster, including resources from Child Care Aware and the federal Offices of Head Start and Child Care.

– The always amazing folks at Sesame Street are going to help us! Friday they’ll air a special episode entitled “Sesame Street Gets through a Storm.” According to their Twitter account, “A storm hits, and the community works together to cope with the destruction and rebuild.” They’ve also provided a link to their Hurricane Tool Kit for talking to kids about weather events and helping them through the anxiety. Elmo also popped in to Brian Lehrer’s radio show this week to talk about his experience with storms, along with Dr. Rosemarie Truglio, the vice president of education and research for Sesame Workshop, who noted that the episode was created long before Sandy or even Hurricane Katrina.

“‘Sesame Street’ is based on a whole child curriculum, and so we focus not only on the cognitive skills, but social and emotional skills of children,” Truglio said. “We wanted to have a community show like this where we could model for parents tips — so that we could model how you prepare for a storm and how you get through the storm with activities … and keeping your child calm and safe.”

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