The aftermath of a hurricane in Florida.
Natural Disasters and the Struggle for Equity
Hurricanes, fires, tornados and other natural disasters often painfully reveal the discriminatory nature of emergency preparedness, escape and recovery for everyone involved, particularly for those of low socioeconomic status and people of color. The disconnect among cities, counties, states and federal agencies tends to favor a common outcome: better outcomes for white residents while forcing communities of color to draft their own emergency preparedness, escape and disaster recovery plans. Climate change and environmental racism, exacerbated by the spread of COVID-19, compound an already high risk for vulnerable communities that experience issues with access to healthcare, housing, food scarcity, unemployment, and even locating disaster preparedness and recovery resources in their own language. Families that don’t have the option to evacuate or stay with relatives in a safe space must roll the dice with sheltering at home or in community spaces with others, but in light of COVID-19, how can we practice social distancing packed into a tight room full of people seeking safety? These deep disparities in equity and opportunity, already laid bare by a pandemic, continue to undermine community response and recovery in the wake of a constant barrage of natural disasters.
Natural disasters, even before COVID-19, act as a central point of unresolved trauma for many children and their families. Devastation of local communities, schools, access to food and clean water, electricity and the communication tools like the internet further impede the ability of students and families to recover successfully. And a natural disaster amid a national pandemic and ongoing school closures puts students in danger of missing out further on formal learning and the ability to engage with the new educational models like distance learning. Following a natural disaster like a major hurricane or the ongoing fires in California, Oregon and Washington, you may find that students are looking to teachers, parents and others for explanations, support and solutions to allay their fears. Often, students not directly affected by such events may be watching the news and wondering, “What happens to me if a hurricane hits?” or “What happens if there’s a fire by my home?” or even, “What can I do to help those affected?”
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Natural Disaster, SEL and Trauma-Informed Resources with Share My Lesson
Educators and school staff have a crucial role to play in helping children recover from trauma after a natural disaster or public health emergency. One of the most important things teachers can do is to make students feel safe. The National Association of School Psychologists says that “Students will look to teachers and parents to see how they should react to these unknown situations.” However, it is critical that teachers gauge their responses to meet students at their appropriate developmental level and, regardless of age, encourage them to verbalize their feelings. Creating a safe space, equipped with trauma-informed practices and social emotional learning resources, where students can share their feelings without judgment, is vital after a natural disaster has touched their lives. Get more ideas on how to help students talk about and reflect on their feelings with resources from Ashoka, First Book and Project Happiness Global.
Share My Lesson has curated resources to aid teachers, school staff and parents in helping students recover and continue learning after a disaster. The Coalition to Support Grieving Students offers resources that can help teachers provide support to students who have experienced trauma from natural disasters. One notable resource is “Support in the Aftermath of Natural Disasters,” which features ideas and suggestions for how teachers can work with students to deliver ongoing support. This resource also points out that the more the adults at school engage with their students and encourage them to talk about their experiences and fears, the more likely these students will be willing to continue those conversations with their own families.
Learn more about natural disasters, recovery and what you can do to help students cope with difficult experiences with these tailored collections of resources, lesson plans and activities from Share My Lesson:
- Disaster Recovery: Promoting Preparedness, Understanding and Healing
- Trauma-Informed Resources for Students and Teachers
- Helping Children After a Natural Disaster | Colorín Colorado