The Web and Hurricane Survival

It's tough living through a hurricane! Its tougher living through two!

Students at Millennium Middle School, in Sanford, Florida recently lived through two hurricanes: Charley (a category 2) and Frances (the longest storm in Florida history)

When my own daughter started exhibiting signs of stress after Hurricane Charley pounded our home I realized how important it was to help all of my students de-stress. I first found some online sources (which I immediately posted to the school's Website) and then I tried to put these good ideas to use.

The very first thing I did was attempt to return some normalcy and some structure back in their lives. I had the students come in and do their classwork, as I do everyday. The students do three journals: a word of the day, a history event of the day, and class jargon. I also wanted the students to talk about the storm, but I wanted them to think the positives — which can be very hard when your house has been destroyed or your car has been crushed by a tree. So after the students completed their journals, I had them write a story about how they were brave and calm during and/or after the hurricane. The next day, before letting the students finish working on their stories, I started talking to the students about how I was feeling about the storm- and how my family was reacting. According to Hurricane Health Tips- Stress and Teens: "teenagers may often downplay their worries related to the hurricane."

So, I read the major symptoms of stress in Teens 13-18 and asked if any of the students were feeling these things since the storms:

  • Headaches and other physical complaints
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Appetite disturbance
  • Changes or loss of interest in friends and activities
  • Fear of storms

Then I went around the room and pointed at the students who raised their hands each time, and said "You're normal." Telling everyone they were normal became the class joke of the day. By the end of the class, you could feel the tension leave the room. It was also very reassuring for the students to realize they weren't alone. It turns out, every student in the room had some of the symptoms.

I am glad I took the time to look on the Internet for ways to help the students. I learned that stress reactions are a “natural response, both before and after a hurricane.†I also learned that children who have been sufficiently prepared will generally have less severe and more temporary reactions. Learning that made me realize how important it was to get the students ready for the next round, as Frances was coming.

After turning the stories about Charley into Web pages, I had my students research ways to get ready for a hurricane. I knew that if they were prepared, understood what to do, and felt more comfortable with their stress, then maybe, they could ‘weather’ the storm emotionally. So, the students researched:

  • Developing a family plan
  • Creating a disaster supply kit
  • Finding a place to go
  • Securing their home
  • Having a plan for pets

Before the students could finish these Web pages — Frances was upon us! I live in the same neighborhood as our school, which was activated as a Hurricane Shelter, and so I took refuge in my own classroom. That was an interesting experience in itself!

For 2 days, I lived in my classroom.

After the storm, I realized how lucky we were! Just a few shingles (and a tiny leak in the roof) and the electricity came back on after four days. When we started back to school, I found that more children had lost their homes, and many others now had relatives living with them who had lost their homes. Some students (and teachers) didn’t have electricity for over a week (some didn’t have it for two weeks after Charley). We talked about the stress again, and every child talked about being a little stressed, but they all knew how normal it was to be a little stressed!

As I finish this article, yet another hurricane has its eyes on central Florida. I have hurried today to rush and put the students’ Web pages up on the school site. I want them all to be able to look at ways to prepare for the storm — and to remember that they can be brave and calm and that stress is normal!

Millennium Middle School’s students web pages on Hurricanes

Helping Children Handle Disaster-Related Stress

Hurricanes and Stress in Teens

Learn about Hurricanes:

Weather Classroom

Hurricane: Storm Science

Email:Rosemary Shaw