Nov 18

Supporting Students in Sandy's Aftermath

Posted by Pamela M. Jones in Fair Is Not Equal on Nov 18, 2012

LindseyOne Teacher's Story

As a follow-up to our posting on how to support students, families, and yourselves in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, we are now presenting you with one teacher's story about her students' reactions to Hurricane Sandy and how she has addressed their questions and concerns. As the after effects of Sandy will be felt for a long time to come, Lindsey’s words are instructive for anyone thinking about how to continue the conversation with their students.

Pam: As we are now in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and the effects it had on New York, the impact of this superstorm on students is on all of our minds. Have you heard (or seen) any behaviors or discussion from your students about the hurricane?

Lindsey: We have had many different class led discussions about the hurricane - both in the immediate aftermath and the following week. Some students have also brought up the topic on their own time during snack and lunch.

Pam: Can you provide me with some examples, detailed examples, of your discussions (the broad strokes, of course).

Lindsey: We opened school on Thursday and Friday of the week of the hurricane for students/teachers who were able to get to school safely. I had 7 of my 11 students present. We spent the first period in an open discussion about how the hurricane affected them.  Most students that were present lived in areas of the city that were less affected (if at all), but had obviously heard a great deal of information from the news and their parents.  One student in particular jumps out in my mind...

Pam: I'd love to hear about this student.

Lindsey: A particularly anxious boy recalled the feeling of the wind hitting his building. He explained that the sound of the wind, and how he could see from his building (high floor) the water surging.  He mentioned that it was difficult for him to understand what was going on, since it was his "first hurricane." He spent most of the night awake and anxious.  He, and many other students in my class, have difficulty understanding what happened in the aftermath of the hurricane unless they experienced it directly. It turned out that this student could no longer participate in after school activities due to flooding of Chelsea Piers.  This brought some understanding to him of what was happening elsewhere in the city

Pam: I can see how they might have difficulty grasping what happened without experiencing it directly. What I find an even more interesting (and possibly underaddressed) area of any post-disaster time is impact any disaster/challenging time has on those who didn't experience the event as directly as others. It sounds like, in your classroom, this student's story helped them make more connections to the specific experience of others.

Lindsey: It did.  We also spent time discussing why not all of our students were able to make it to school on Thurs. and Fri.  Having students absent due to power outages, or subways unable to run, was a concrete experience for those in the classroom those days.  Two of my students live in Rockland and Westchester - they not only lost power, but saw many of their neighbors homes/cars hit by trees.  They shared these experiences with the class once they were back at school on Monday -- allowing others to gain some insight of some of the difficulties faced in the aftermath

Pam: I can only imagine how powerful these shares were with your students, having witnessed so many thoughtful conversations with your students.

Lindsey: As a class, we also spent time looking at images, reading kid-appropriate articles, and brainstorming ways we can help those hardest hit by Sandy. They were all eager to share not only their own experiences, but also things they heard from others. To help in a concrete way, as a school, we collected items to make hygiene kits for the victims of the hurricane. We worked with an organization called AmeriCares this past week to put the kits together. AmeriCares then brings the kits to shelters and clinics around the affected areas.

Pam: What a wonderful way to become involved with the relief effort; truly.

Lindsey: It really was. Each floor collected a different item (soap, toothbrushes, toilet paper, etc.) and then the student council (for our cluster) compiled the kits. Throughout the day, before the compilation, other teachers brought their classes by to view the items that were donated. We ended up making 105 hygiene kits.

Pam: How amazing! That represents a lot of work, 105 hygiene kits. They should be proud of the works they did.

Lindsey: They were very pleased on Friday afternoon that their hard work organizing the collection paid off.

Pam: Indeed; indeed. Do you think that there’s a chance that students (both yours, and students in general) could present with behavioral & emotional differences as a result of this natural disaster?

Lindsey: Most definitely. Any time a person, and especially a child, experiences a disaster personally, there is no doubt to be some type of emotional response. Some may act out directly in class, while others could do so more subtly or hide their feelings under the surface.

Pam: I couldn't agree more.

Lindsey: I have had a few teary students this week alone - due to transportation difficulties in getting to school. It is a small incident, compared to what is going on throughout the city, but it just goes to show that their lives were somehow shaken up and their school experiences reflect that.

Pam: Well said, Lindsey. It has been challenging, so I can imagine that it would be even more so for our students. Even small changes can impact us on a deep level. Is there anything else you'd like to share with teachers and other educators out there about responding to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy with our students?

Lindsey: Just a reminder for all... it is so important to address with students what happened during the storm and its aftermath. Though classroom conversations about disasters like this can be challenging, they are crucial in order to help our students digest what they experienced and move forward.

Pam: Hear, hear. I think the biggest mistake teachers can make is to move forward without addressing major life events, as doing so doesn't erase what happened but actually, sets the stage for more challenges later.

Lindsey: I agree most definitely.

Pam: Lindsey, your words will certainly helps scores of teachers and students who visit our blog.

At the conclusion of this interview, what are your thoughts?  Did Lindsey's words strike a chord with you? What have you done to address Hurricane Sandy with your students?  We'd love to hear your thoughts.

tagged hurricane sandy
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