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Houston Schools Closed: What Happens When Schools Restart?


Many schools in the Houston area are closed due to the storm, Harvey.

Re-start dates are different from school to school; so the comments here are designed to get administrators, teachers and parents and community members including mental health personnel and clergy, thinking NOW about how students will respond to the re-opening of schools.

To be sure, the level of damage and harm depends on the area. Some students will have lost their homes; others will be temporarily dispossessed.  Many possessions will be lost.  Some students have had to be rescued. Others have moved to new locations and unfamiliar settings. Some have left the area altogether to be with family in other cities/states.  Disruption is the order of the day.

Many students will be profoundly impacted by the events of the past few days and the days to come.  There is no one answer to how to re-open schools post a traumatic event that has affected millions.  Indeed, that is part of the complexity of things -- there is so much that is person-specific.  And, for those with existing high ACEs, the issues are magnified.

But, don't give up.  I have been part of an institution that closed and re-opened post 9/11 with all of the trauma of that event  (which is obviously not a perfect analogy).  So, here are three suggestions for helping students of all ages and stages decrease their anxiety and enable the school year to be a productive -- albeit a changed one).  

1.  Talk about what has occurred. Do not pretend it did not happen. Denial does not work. And, it is not as if one should just open the books and start with the previous curriculum as if there were no disruptions.  

Consider adding material that allows insight into the types of events that occurred.  Try  materials on weather and meteorology.  Get local weather broadcasters to appear in the classroom to look at maps and weather.  Look at literature (with older students) that deal with weather events with positive outcomes -- yes really.  It is way better to find a way into the feelings and events than to deny that something has happened.  

2. Arrange to have mental health personnel available and not just for students. Teachers, administrators and parents will need support too -- for themselves and for their children.  There will, I am sure, be a shortage of such individuals but consider the possibility of teams coming from other regions of the US.  And, these need to be individuals trained in trauma and trauma recovery.  And, they need to be present for weeks -- really weeks.  And this is true for schools serving the youngest to the oldest students.

3.  Talk about the future and enable students to help build that future -- literally and psychologically. They can help re-paint walls. They can help put books back in the library or even rest the books outside to dry. They can make murals on walls to showcase feelings. They can read books and stories about recovery of people from all sorts of trauma -- not just weather related. There is a rich and thoughtful non-fiction literature about moving forward and overcoming trauma.

But the key advice is to plan now -- as the flooding and catastrophe is happening.  Be ready to re-open --- not just the doors.  There needs to be a re-opening of minds and feelings and the development of coping strategies -- for everyone.






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