The scope of the devastation from Hurricane Harvey is only beginning to be understood. The loss of life, property, and resources is extensive. Along with physical destruction, Harvey left behind gaping emotional wounds. Nobody is truly unaffected. People were directly impacted by the flooding, losing loved ones and or property in the hurricane. Others were affected by the terrifying news stories; as well as the fear and uncertainty of an unpredictable natural disaster. After the hurricane, persistent and pervasive dangers to health, life, and limb remain.
Feelings of fear and insecurity remain and can become roadblocks to performance. Trauma impacts learning. As an educator, you are always on the front lines of student care. Helping students to recover from such a monumental disaster requires patience, understanding, and specialized knowledge. What follows are some steps to help you help your students as you all navigate through disaster recovery.
Know your resources.
- Federal, state, and local resources are already in place and will evolve to assist in the recovery process. Most people have heard about Federal Emergency Management Agency resources available to Harvey victims. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) provide valuable, reliable post-hurricane safety information.
- Texas Department of State Health Services offers comprehensive public health and safety information; including recent post-Harvey news and updates. You can follow them on Twitter (@TexasDSHS) for tips e.g. “Sanitize cans & pouches — submerge in a mix of 1 c. unscented bleach and 5 gals. water for 15 mins, OR boiling water for 2 mins. #foodsafety“
- The City of Houston has an online emergency operations center; specifically designed to centralize resources for flood victims.
- There is even an emergency contingency for disaster unemployment insurance; which may be needed by some parents.
You’re likely familiar with school counselors but be sure you thoroughly understand Harvey-specific arrangements that your school administration has put into place. Be alert to signs of stress that would require a counselor. Don’t hesitate to refer a child to a counselor or use one yourself. And ask questions: Your counselors are a valuable resource to recovery.
Initially, there will be much discussion about the hurricane. It may seem to disrupt classes; even if you have planned around it and incorporated the issues into your curriculum. As you listen, try to hear if there is a need to help or be helped; and, with the approval of your administration, respond accordingly. Children not directly affected and members of community service clubs may, for example, communicate a desire to raise money for school supplies, recovery essentials, or food for their affected schoolmates.
Sharing your own experiences, in an age-appropriate manner, may help you to connect with victims who are having trouble finding their voice after the disaster. Listen more than you share. And, when you make a connection and questions are raised, be prepared to say, “I don’t know, but I can find out!” with confidence.
Every child, directly affected by Harvey or not, will be struggling to feel safe and secure again.
Taking care of yourself is an important step in coping with any disaster. Your students are watching how you react and modeling self-care, physical, mental, and emotional, gives students a clear view of recovery. And remember: students may need encouragement to have some fun. Practicing that in the classroom can help. Don’t forget to laugh.
Just as other steps such as listening and sharing can help to shore up children who are experiencing emotional trauma, maintaining a predictable classroom schedule can, as well. Continuing “normally” with your curriculum can allow students to focus on things other than Harvey-related problems. In fact, if you are able to maintain that safe, predictable school environment from before the hurricane, school can actually become a solace.
All victims of Hurricane Harvey are in for a long haul. Recovery is a process; not an event. Once the urgent situation is over, the real work begins. Recovery takes time. In the meantime, take care of yourself and remember to
Contact us with questions, concerns, or to find out what resources are in place to help and support The Tenney School staff and students.