Hurricanes leave their mark on schools, kids
Friday, September 15, 2017
When hurricanes tear through a region, they leave a visible path of destruction that's easy to capture on camera. More difficult to picture is the mark they leave on the people whose lives have been disrupted. This is especially true when it comes to children in school.
More than 1 million Texas children live in the 58-county region that has been declared a disaster zone after Hurricane Harvey. The Houston Independent School District alone has estimated about $700 million in damage to its buildings.
On Sept. 8, Hurricane Irma caused Florida to cancel classes for 2.8 million public school children and at least 1.1 million students in Florida's public colleges and universities. Another 410,000 Puerto Rican school children missed class due to Irma.
All in all, 1 in every 6 American students missed school time due to the two devastating storms. Roughly 8.5 million K-12 students in Texas, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Puerto Rico missed at least one day of education compared to their fellow students elsewhere.
As of last week, Business Insider reported that 1.7 million kids in Florida and Texas were still unable to go to school, and things are still looking grim. Schools in Houston slowly began reopening this week with rolling start dates based on how damaged the schools were.
"Some campuses were fortunate to have limited damage, while others need so much work, they will not reopen this year," Houston ISD Superintendent Richard Carranza said.
Those who particularly recall the effects of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans' schools are even more worried. It took years for the system to return to normalcy. More than 370,000 students in Mississippi and Louisiana were displaced from their homes and schools. Characterized by high dropout rates and low academic achievement, this lost generation of students are still struggling with joblessness.
Though Texas and Florida are stronger economies and will recover faster than Louisiana, the educational system will nevertheless see some major disruptions. Resources will be in shortage, and classes will resume slowly.
"During Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans and the surrounding school districts took six months to open their schools," Carranza said. "Hurricane Harvey was just as destructive, and we’re attempting to open a much larger school district in two weeks."
After Hurricane Katrina, it took years for New Orleans schools to return to normalcy.
In Florida, Miami-Dade and Broward County public schools remain closed today, with plans to return Monday. Schools throughout the Tampa Bay region are also closed this week but expect to reopen Monday.
"Two-thirds of our schools still do not have power," Miami-Dade County Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said earlier this week.
More worrisome is the fact that disasters like these affect the students' mental and physical health as well, leading to tremendous risks. Behavioral disorders, negative emotions, anxiety, intense feelings of stress, health problems, and in some cases even psychosis-like symptoms manifest in kids.
The hurricanes came right at the onset of the school year and on the heels of the long summer break. A long gap like this exacerbates the summer slide and can lead to massive academic setbacks.
Affected districts are receiving and awaiting further aid from relief agencies and the federal government. Carranza has announced three free meals per day for all students for the rest of the academic year.
As district officials try to determine the feasibility and safety of students returning to their classes, they are bringing in crisis counselors to help the traumatized students as well as district employees. They are also preparing to take in displaced students and those who do not go to school.
It is a long road to recovery, and these students will need all the help and the resources they can get.
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