SCHOOLS

Tampa Bay Times - - From The Front Page - Con­tact Jef­frey S. Solochek at (813) 909-4614 or jsolochek@tam­pabay.com. Fol­low @jeff­solochek.

way adults re­act can in­flu­ence cop­ing.

One thing the schools should not do is pre­tend Irma never hap­pened, said Joy Osof­sky of the Louisiana State Uni­ver­sity Health Sciences Cen­ter, who played a key role af­ter Hur­ri­cane Katrina in ef­forts to ad­dress chil­dren’s trauma through schools.

“One of the things that peo­ple think about is, if we don’t talk about it and we don’t think about it and we just get back to the rou­tine the way it was be­fore, then ev­ery­thing will be okay,” Osof­sky said. “That just isn’t the case.”

Ev­ery­one needs to have an op­por­tu­nity to talk about what hap­pened to them, as a way of set­tling back into the reg­u­lar­ity that school brings to chil­dren and com­mu­nity, she said. That in­cludes teach­ers, who also felt the im­pact of the storm.

Such shar­ing is part of prin­ci­pal Stan Mykita’s re­turn plan at Wesley Chapel Ele­men­tary.

He said he will en­cour­age teach­ers to let stu­dents know that they also heard the howl­ing wind, sweated through the power out­ages and other­wise en­dured Irma. It’s not to seek sym­pa­thy, he said.

It’s a point of con­nec­tion, a place to be­gin con­ver­sa­tion.

“It’s just let­ting them know they’re not the only ones go­ing through this,” Mykita said.

As schools work to get back to the busi­ness of teach­ing and learn­ing, they should pace them­selves, said Patti Ezell, a Louisiana-based men­tal health pro­fes­sional who worked with schools af­ter Katrina and Rita.

They might want to hold off on such things as test­ing and home­work, Ezell sug­gested, un­til most ev­ery­one can get on an even keel.

“Ev­ery­body, even those who have the least amount of dam­age, can have other is­sues go­ing on,” she said. “You don’t want to get stuck and bogged down, but at the same time you don’t want to push and go too fast.”

Latoya Jor­dan, prin­ci­pal at La­coochee Ele­men­tary in eastern Pasco County, said she agreed it would take time to make sure classes can get back up to speed.

Teach­ers need to make sure they re­view the content they left off with, for in­stance, as no one an­tic­i­pated be­ing away so long. She ex­pected, though, that things would re­turn to busi­ness as usual fairly quickly, “but keep­ing in mind the ba­sics” that stu­dents, par­ents and staff might re­quire.

Her al­ready dis­tressed com­mu­nity reg­u­larly has food, wa­ter, cloth­ing and other needs it deals with daily. Irma sim­ply added an­other com­pli­cat­ing layer.

“The big­gest part is just be­ing un­der­stand­ing,” Jor­dan said. “They know if they need us, we’re here — not just for the kids, but for the com­mu­nity in gen­eral.”

The ex­perts pointed out that ed­u­ca­tors must pay at­ten­tion to their own needs, as well.

Some teach­ers still can­not get home from their evac­u­a­tion. Oth­ers can’t get out of their homes. They feel the ef­fects, too.

“We’re try­ing to take care of each other now,” said Wesley Chapel Ele­men­tary fourth-grade teacher Lau­rie Baz­ick.

Baz­ick’s teach­ing team has been help­ing one an­other by pro­vid­ing such things as power to charge up de­vices to those who haven’t had elec­tric­ity in their homes. They are shar­ing their own sets of sto­ries, while also con­fer­ring about what they ex­pect from the stu­dents they teach to­gether.

If they don’t take care of their own needs, Baz­ick said, teach­ers will find it more dif­fi­cult to tend to their classes. And they know that it will take some time to work through the many is­sues that could pop up once stu­dents re­turn.

“It will be kind of a day-by-day as far as meet­ing their needs, while also slowly get­ting back into the reg­u­lar cur­ricu­lum,” Baz­ick said. “We can’t re­ally make much progress un­less we meet those needs first.”

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