Hurricanes, communities and classrooms

Hurricane Florence mostly spared Durham. The eye of the storm veered south and weakened as it moved inland. We still experienced heavy wind and rain, flooding and power outages, but it was much worse in other parts of the state.

My district cancelled school Thursday and Friday to give families and staff time to prepare. One local high school will be used as a shelter. Riverside was the backup site.

A few days ago, as I reflected on my first few weeks of school, I thought about my Silent Sam article, mentoring my student teacher and learning my students. I was ready to write about the end of the “honeymoon” – those first few days before students reveal their true colors – and current events like Aretha Franklin’s death, migrant farmers and their children’s education and Colin Kaepernick, all of which I turned into Articles of the Week.

But Florence put my mind in a very different place. Now I’m thinking about how the relationships and community I’ve worked to build with students during the first three weeks of school could stretch beyond the classroom and support families who lose far more than two days of school.

It seems trivial to call a natural disaster a “teachable moment,” but it will certainly influence what happens in class this  week.  First, students basic needs (food, water, shelter) have to be covered before we can worry about learning. After that, we’ll need to acknowledge the challenges students and their families experienced and help them feel help them feel safe again. Only then can we reasonably expect them to take risks and grow.

Teachers don’t have to bring natural disasters into their classrooms. The events that affect our students lives outside of aren’t listed in our curriculum standards and won’t show up on standardized tests. However, as my friend Justin Parmenter wrote earlier this week, these experiences bring to life the lessons we deliver in school.

In so many ways, moments like these are where the rubber meets the road. Hurricane Florence and its aftermath will require students to process their feelings, make decisions and lead others. They’ll use the skills they learned in school and communicate their experiences through social media, text messages and conversations. If I’m committed to integrating current events into my instruction, addressing students’ social emotional needs and implementing the restorative practices, I can’t return to school next week and not discuss the storm.

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artwork by Kelly Heffley

Click here for more information about Durham’s shelters. To assist with hurricane relieve efforts, consider making a donation to the Red Cross.