Oh, the irony. I write this post after two unshowered and under-coffeed days, after an unexpected wind storm knocked out power to most of the Northeast. School was cancelled here in Central Vermont for a few days. In parts of New England, it’s not unheard of for power to go out for a full week. It’s been over a month since Hurricane Maria hit and many still don’t have power. So I guess we have nothing to complain about.
After Hurricane Sandy in 2012, New York City schools were closed for a week. Some students were displaced from their schools and had low attendance at their new location.
Extreme weather events — hurricanes, floods, wildfires, blizzards, and droughts — are often fueled by climate change and are challenging state infrastructures, like the public school system. School closings are increasingly common, and can have negative impacts on families and students.
How can schools continue to educate and care for students when they face the challenge of more school closings due to increasing bouts of extreme weather?
According to the Portland Tribune:
“Researchers say extreme weather events — and many other reasons schools might need to close — are going to become a lot more common as climate change progresses. Flooding, wildfire, heat, earthquakes, windstorms, drought, landslides and pandemic diseases are all considered more likely under climate change. All could cause schools to close unexpectedly, putting strain on students, families and the economy as a whole.”
The strain on families is real. Parents need to get to work, but also need to take time off to be with their kids.
The strain on students is real. When schools are closed the impact can be significant for learners, especially those who face challenges such as poverty, learning disabilities, or trauma. The challenges include, but are not limited to students:
- Missing meals
- Missing services (physical therapy, special education) interrupting progress in academic subjects
- Reducing time reading and engaged in learning
It doesn’t necessarily have to be this way. Schools can continue to help students learn when they can’t physically get to a school building. It’s a seismic change that is already underway in schools: blended, personalized learning, that gives students a flexible pathway to meet proficiencies or competencies.
“Every time there was a snow day in the district, our kids were still required to log on and do their coursework,” said Metro East Web Academy Associate (MEWA) Principal Christina Struyk-Bonn in the Portland Tribune. “And then we didn’t have to tag on days at the end either because we were able to keep pace with our schedule.”
Students still might face the challenges of missing meals and services, but they can continue to make progress academically, (assuming students are not displaced from their homes, and have access to technology). Students can collaborate online, turn in assignments, get feedback and view resources with tools like Google Classroom, Khan Academy, Google Docs, and other tech resources.
What else are schools doing during extreme weather events?
Schools often become shelters for the surrounding community. For schools to be responsive and proactive, they would need to plan for this by having materials on hand or in storage to become a shelter: cots, sleeping bags, bottled water, and nonperishable foods. It is unrealistic to ask schools to put this in their limited budgets. Towns and cities should collaborate with schools to get ready for these kinds of events.
TedEd innovative teachers are already debating this — the decentralizing of education and the use of community resources and technology for students to lead through creative projects and collaboration. In answering a prompt about the future of education, teachers speculated that because of security issues and extreme weather, schools will become community hubs when students and families need these spaces. One could also argue that schools can and should be community hubs now, to promote community health and well being, and to give students chances to interact with different generations and present to authentic audiences.
How can parents help?
After the snow is cleared, the floods subside and the wildfires are just simmering embers, it seems we often forget the challenges — the lost school days, and the struggles to provide people what they need. But climate change is real. It’s happening right now. We will have more extreme weather events and more lost school and work days.
Please let your elected officials know that America has a plan to fight climate change. They must speak up for the families they represent and support America’s Clean Power plan before the next climate fueled extreme weather event keeps our children from going to school.