Tropical storm Sandy reminded us that the school building is a very important structure as a shelter, a physical refuge in the face of natural disaster but also an emotional refuge following a trauma of any kind.
The Paul Robeson Educational Complex which houses my school did not receive any damage and we are not a site designated to host other schools. Still, the community at Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) is in recovery mood after Sandy. Two of my teachers lost their homes, two were displaced, one of our college professors also received home damage. Many of our students are still without power in the Rockaways or Red Hook. One of my teachers who lost everything wept when he returned to school because of the outpouring of support that we showed him. He said that getting back to his students would help him cope with the trauma.
Schooling also gives people routine which helps with recovery. “Business as usual” is the least expensive and in some cases the only method of therapy people can afford. The week before Sandy covered parts of the country with unimaginable heartache I was accompanied by two support staff members to the funeral of one our 10th graders’ mother. It was emotionally challenging sitting there at the funeral but, as challenging as it was, we needed to be there for the student. Furthermore, it was important for the family and the community to understand that the school was connected to its students outside of the classroom.
The day after the student’s mother died, he returned to school because he felt school was where he needed to be – for his survival. It was not so much that he wanted to get back to normal but the school’s routine is what he needed to help him deal with his current trauma.
Leaders — teachers and principals — have been trying to lead through this recovery but there are no scripts. All that we can do is try our best. In the future, I would like to see more training on how to protect (emotionally, spiritually and legally) school leaders living through traumatic times.
Overall, the outpouring of support from people inside and outside the school system has been very inspiring. Many people from different walks of live are putting differences aside to focus on rebuilding. Once again, education and the buildings where it occurs are keys to recovery.