K-12 Schools

The School’s Role in Disaster RecoveryImage - schools

Garrison Keillor said, “Nothing you do for children is ever wasted,” and nowhere is this more true than in the school’s role in helping students recover from disaster.  Teachers and administrators can have a significant impact on the successful coping and recovery of the entire community after a disaster. It is vital that schools and communities recognize the long-term impact of tragedies on children and provide support not just for the first few days and weeks, but throughout the period of recovery and healing.

As school personnel educate themselves about the mental health implications of disasters and as they extend themselves to children, schools can:

  1. create caring and supportive environments that are a reminder of the predictable and stable elements in students’ lives even after disasters as they recreate pre-disaster routines
  2. provide an outlet for children to express a range of emotions and to communicate their feelings about the disaster in a supportive and contained environment
  3. facilitate the grief and recovery process for all affected by the disaster
  4. serve as a resource for educating not only students but parents and community leaders, and by conducting meetings to contribute to recovery

Here are some general principles for which teachers and administrators may find more detailed information elsewhere on the website:

  1. Focus on involving yourself with recovery in a way that corresponds to the developmental level of the students affected by the disaster.  Parent-teacher interventions at the elementary level, for example, will be necessarily and appropriately different than those at the high school level.
  2. Understand and anticipate some of the normal stress-related responses of children, such as:
    • Fear of the future
    • Behavioral regression
    • Academic regression
    • Nightmares
  3. Strive to be a predictable and safe and reassuring presence in students’ lives.  Many of them may have lost possessions or homes or even family members, and school as a reliable and stable presence can be an essential anchor for students’ recovery in re-establishing routine, providing peer support and friendships, and providing additional opportunities for children to express themselves.
  4. Create an environment in which students and parents can begin to recover and cope in a safe and supportive environment.  Allow them to express their emotions in a warm, supportive environment. Every child has a story to tell. Listening to a child re-examine his or her experience in a non-judgmental, supportive manner helps the child process the event and begin to recover.
  5. Relocated children and their families present special mental health recovery challenges.  Although relocation may provide families with new homes, schools, and a sense of routine, successful integration of students into the system is paramount for children to re-establish roles and a sense of identity in their new communities. Administrators, support personnel, and teachers can help children integrate by involving them in school and community activities similar to those in which they were previously involved.

Web Links

This 3-page article provided by SAMHSA titled Tips for Supporting Children During Times of War: A Guide for Teachers explores how to talk to children about war and how to help children better access their abilities to cope.

FEMA offers disaster mental health resources for parents and teachers, including interactive online curriculum and activities for children

A fact sheet on the impact of terrorism and disasters on children from the American Psychological Association

The National Institute for Mental Health offers resources regarding traumatic events and children and adolescents

The National Association of School Psychologists offers school safety and crisis resources, including information on crisis teams in schools

The Center for Health and Healthcare in Schools offers various mental health resources for teachers, parents, and students

Ready.gov offers a site specifically designed to help kids understand disaster preparedness

Sesame Street’s affiliated organization, Sesame Workshop, offers a wealth of emotional health resources for children and their parents