Monthly Archives: November 2012

Press Release (Reblog): Save Our Schools Response to Hurricane Sandy

Press Release
November 5, 2012
Bess Altwerger, SOS Action Committee
Bob George, SOS Steering Committee


Please Donate to the Hurricane Sandy Student and Teacher Support Fund

Save Our Schools calls on all local, state and federal authorities to spare no expense in rushing aide to thousands of school children and teachers affected by hurricane Sandy. The devastating loss of homes, clothing, books and school supplies will result in a serious and prolonged disruption to education. Schools that have suffered destruction from flooding will need immediate assistance to replace materials and restore a healthy, safe environment for all students and employees. Students experiencing the trauma of fear and loss need counseling and other social services to ensure their emotional health and optimize their ability to continue learning. We need to do all that we can to make certain adequate services are provided. Building a sense of connection and care, and providing opportunities to process with others what has just occurred should be a key focus of instruction at this time.

Learn more at

Hurricane Sandy Two Important Research Findings on Children and Trauma Support the Halting of Testing in K-12 Public Schools: An Open Letter to Governor Christie, Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg

Dear Governor Christie, Governor Cuomo, and Mayor Bloomberg,

I write to applaud your rapid response to Hurricane Sandy. You have been decisive in your decision making and tireless in your efforts to care for all those who have suffered because of the brute force of the storm. Many of the decisions you have made have been courageous, some unexpectedly so. I urge you now to make one more decision for the sake of the children who whose lives have been so tragically impacted by Sandy.

It is imperative that executive decisions are made so that displaced students are not required to take benchmarking assessments in their new, “temporary” schools. Of equal importance is the suspension of all testing of children whose lives have been deeply affected by the storm. The focus on all new evaluative procedures should be postponed. The push to fully implement APPR, SLOs, DASA, HEDI, summative evaluations, benchmarks, and baseline rubrics, should also be suspended.

An immediate necessity is the push back of the end of the marking quarter. “For my district and I imagine most others, missing this past week means projects, essays, and tests upon return to round out the quarter average that is already stunted by the APPR benchmarking assessments,” a teacher states. “We are scheduled to close our gradebooks Friday and report grades by Tuesday the November 13.

Such pressures in times of catastrophe increase the possibility that children will experience lasting effects on their health and well being as well as their academic development. In the immediate aftermath of a catastrophic event or in an on-going emergency, school administrators and teachers need all testing to be suspended so that they can work together to: (1) support the social and emotional well-being of children; and (2) create classrooms that encourage resiliency. It is of vital importance that all pedagogical initiatives ensure that every child has the opportunity to engage in activities that support their learning in healthful and productive ways.

Two research findings provide a framework for schools to establish safe learning environments for K-12 students in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.  Both findings are supported by ethnographic research in locations where catastrophic events have taken place and/or emergency situations exist; and by medical, psychiatric and psychological research on children and mass trauma. The first finding is that it is important that we do everything we can to restore the social fabric of children’s everyday lives if they are to have the best chance possible to recover when catastrophic events take place. The second finding is that children need to experience joy if they are going to have the best chance possible to recover from potentially traumatic experiences.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy these two findings support the focus on schools as social environments that can enhance the health and well being of students as well as their academic development.. The research based recommendations are presented in depth in “Recommendations for Administrators and Teachers Reopening Schools in the Aftermath of the Storm”. Summarized here, they are deceptively simple:

  1. Establish schools as safe, joyful places for children and teachers;
  2. Ensure that schools are nurturing environments in which children who have been    evacuated can become welcome members of the school community;
  3. Promote children’s health and well being by providing them with increased opportunities to participate in art, music, drama, dance, and physical education;
  4. Enhance academic learning through meaningful literacy activities, listening to and reading stories, participating in constructivist math and science projects, and other meaning making activities;
  5. Encourage family and community participation in the daily life of the school;
  6. Make sure that the school takes part in community events and activities.

These recommendations are not earth shattering suggestions, but to implement them will take a suspension of stressful mandated requirements. There is no doubt that the current intense focus on testing and value added assessment increases the pressures on children and teachers who have experienced a potentially traumatizing disaster such as Hurricane Sandy. Thus suspending these testing policies and mandates becomes critically important if teachers are to focus on creating environments in schools which will contribute to the restoration of the social fabric of children’s everyday lives.  In such circumstances creative, imaginative and joyful learning experiences that are responsive to the social, emotional and intellectual needs of children, and which support their learning in healthful and productive ways are absolutely essential.


Denny Taylor
Professor of Literacy Studies
Founding Director of the International Center for Everybody’s Child
Hofstra University

Hurricane Sandy Recommendations for Administrators and Teachers Reopening Schools in the Aftermath of the Storm

Recommendations for Administrators and Teachers Responding to Hurricane Sandy:

            Hurricane Sandy has created long lasting catastrophic conditions in the North East of the United States. People are making heroic efforts to respond to the emergency.  At hospitals in New York City nurses arrived on Sunday and did not leave until Wednesday evening. On Monday Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of NYC, called on New York teachers to be first responders in public shelters in the city. Teachers are strong, capable, compassionate, and always ready to take care of children and their families, but, unlike doctors, nurses, the police, firefighters and EMT’s, teachers receive little or no training.

Nevertheless teachers are leading the way.

One teacher from Long Beach writes, “I have been running our medical triage where we assess patients and then dispatch them to ambulances or to busses to be transported to shelters. We also have a doctor working off of a trolley trying to see as many people as he can to get medication and vaccinations out to the people who need it. The outreach has been amazing”.

“I am wondering what they are doing about the public schools here?” the same teacher writes. “They got a lot of damage from what I understand and many students have been displaced from their homes”.

“We have a meeting at one of the schools in Long Beach on Tuesday for those who can make it,” another teacher writes. “I’m going to attend, and see what my district plans on doing in regard to the school year. My school also had 3-5 feet of water in every classroom, and is in the worst shape out of all buildings in the district. I can’t imagine how we are going to have school.”

School districts across the U.S. have developed emergency plans; however, few educators receive preparation to be first responders in the aftermath of catastrophic events when schools reopen and children arrive whose homes have been damaged or destroyed. Some will not know what has happened to family and friends; others will have lost their pets. Many of their families will be living without light or heat and some will have difficulty obtaining water or fresh food to eat.

In such circumstances many teachers will have experienced similar losses and hardships, and yet they will return to school to make sure their classrooms are safe places for students to be. The following recommendations are based upon the findings of psychiatric and medical research and build on the advice the National Child Stress Network (2006). The recommendations are also supported by the findings of my ethnographic research in schools in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, and in schools in Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The most recent review of the recommendations took place in May 2008 when teachers in St. Bernard Parish and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana reflected on the impact of the storm (their advice is included in parentheses).

The enduring message, in hindsight, from the teachers in Louisiana is that in the aftermath of catastrophic events all potentially stressful activities (test prep and testing) should be suspended and schools should to be safe joyful places for children to be.  have the opportunity to recover when catastrophes take place. Every effort should be made to recognize the importance of children’s families and friends.  Have a plan, share the plan and stick to the plan. Build strong communities, incorporate health and well being into pedagogical initiatives. Every attempt should be made to take care of the whole child, every child, and make school a joyful place for children to be. This is the basis for school and community preparedness for catastrophes. In the aftermath of teachers in Louisiana stood outside with umbrellas to welcome children back to schools that put the pressures of unreasonable mandates to one side so that they could take care of every child. Here are the recommendations with the addition of the advice of Louisiana teachers are in brackets:

First Responses in Shelters When Catastrophic Events Take Place:

  1. Talking with children and youth and their families, who have experienced a catastrophic event, is an intervention. Just being comfortable with the fact that children are distressed, helps first responders.
  2. Make sure children with special needs are located and that their immediate needs are met. This might include making sure the child receives medical attention (“be prepared to take care of children who are autistic” “and those who are wheelchair bound”).
  3. When there are young children involved, activities that promote a sense of well being include: (a) Playing with children to help distract them; (b) If parents are present holding babies so parents can eat or rest; (c) If there is nothing to do, helping with care giving, just making yourself available, and “being there” with them.
  4. Do not ask children to reveal emotional information, but if they do, listen, (“provide opportunities” “give them crayons”)
  5. Try to focus on their immediate needs by reducing hassles for survivors. If you assist doctors and Red Cross workers in problem-solving and logistics (e.g. making telephone calls, replacing personal items, etc.) you are providing a service.
  6. If possible provide personal hygiene items including antibacterial wipes, tissues, lotion, tooth brushes and tooth paste, child and adult diapers, female tampons and pads.

First Responses in Schools:

  1. Assume that students are doing their absolute best to cope.
  2. Encourage students to engage in self-care.
  3. Help students feel as much in control as they can.
  4. Make sure students with special needs receive assistance (“think about allergies” “peanut butter”).
  5. Don’t assume first responders have taken care of basic needs.
  6. Make sure students have food, clothing and shelter.
  7. Keep parents informed and send letters when possible (“If possible” “Finding ways to communicate is very difficult”).
  8. Teachers should not provide psychological intervention, but simply listen and support students who are in distress.
  9. It is important that students are not asked to tell their stories. Talking about what happened to them and their families can lead to students reliving the catastrophic event and to retraumatization.
  10. If students talk about the events that have taken place, listen and “be there” for them.
  11. If students focus on the catastrophic event when they write or draw, make sure that they keep their work.
  12. Respect students’ wishes.
  13. Do not make false assurances.
  14. Re-establish basic routines with students (“try to do this as soon as possible”).
  15. Engage students in creative activities. Music and art are important.
  16. Read stories and then more stories
  17. Suspend all activities that might be stressful.
  18. Test prep and tests should be postponed
  19. Make sure there is time for students to play, have fun, and participate in sports activities. Participating in pleasurable activities is essential for recovery.
  20. Reassure students that with the exception of self-destructive behaviors and emotions, their feelings and reactions are reasonable given the situation. (“We are seeing students who coped after the storm who are now having difficulties”).
  21. If you are concerned about a student, know what to do to triage that student and get them mental or physical health services at your site.
  22. Let an administrator or someone in charge of the relief effort know what needs you have identified, so services can be provided to help meet the needs of your students.
  23. Make sure that every teacher has a list of resources and knows what services are available.
  24. Remember that teachers have also experienced the catastrophic event and need support too.

Learning from Teachers who were First Responders in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina:

In Louisiana in May 2008 teachers talked about the importance of making time for teacher support groups. Meetings can be held at lunch time or after school. Teachers need time to discuss what’s happening and share feelings. These groups should be non-hierarchical and rotate leadership.

The Louisiana teachers emphasized the importance that time is also set aside for students to talk. “Morning meetings,” one teacher said, “we roll a dice with happy, sad, embarrassing, scary, and funny on it and children talk if they want to.” They all talked about the importance of helping students find out what had happened to their friends and of reuniting friends whenever possible.

“One catastrophe can lead to another,” a teacher says. She recounts, “A child holding on to a tree with his mother and father was coping okay and then his mother tried to commit suicide.” Other teachers shares similar stories. Three years after Hurricane Katrina tragedies are still occurring. They talk of time. “Catastrophes happen and children might cope but a year later, two years later problems might surface.”

The psychiatrist, Anand Pandya (2006), provides verification of the experiences of the Louisiana teachers when he speaks of the expectation of “symptoms” during the acute phase of an emergency that become “transient and fluid,” often recurring weeks, months or years after the disaster happened. He spoke of the “let down,” and so did the Louisiana teachers, who spoke at length at the changes they were observing in their students’ behaviors, as they began to understand that their families, schools and communities would never be the same as they were before Katrina.  One teacher spoke to the way in which she is approaching this problem. “When something is happening in the community I point it our,” she says. “’Did you see the street signs!’” “’Did you see the new trees they’ve planted?’”

The Louisiana teachers talked of recovery, of the lack of support from Federal agencies and repeatedly spoke of schools as the center of the recovery effort. “It’s important for schools to have a single point of entry for all services that they need,” one says. “If there was a place in school,” another begins. “If schools could have a resource place just like a medical tent,” another continues. “When the school reopened it was the only place parents could eat.” “They came in to use the bathroom.” “It was the only place they could get help.” “We took care of the parents too.” “We are still helping them.”