THE BLOG

How to Teach 'Jersey Strong'

11/21/2012 02:55 pm ET | Updated Jan 21, 2013

New Jersey is a pretty resilient state. We have to be as we are
so often the punch lines of other states' jokes.

When Hurricane Sandy hit, that resilience was put to the test
on an even more sobering level. All New Jerseyans were
affected whether they live "down the shore" or visit there in
the summertime. Throughout the state, everyone felt this
storm's effects. Everyone was directly affected by the storm
whether by flood waters or by power outages. This was
personal.

But for New Jersey teachers, it was especially hard to come
back to work not knowing to what extent our students were
affected by the storms -- physically or mentally. We knew it
would be hard to come back to class after almost two weeks
away, but we knew it would be even harder on our students
who were so affected by the storm. Most kids felt anything
from angry, to scared, to confused about how things would get
back to normal -- whatever that will be.

While the school where I'm a fourth grade teacher and many
other towns in NJ were powerless and out of school, many of us
teachers spent our days donating clothes and food to victims,
making donations to the Red Cross, or cleaning out flooded
houses and delivering hot food to those directly affected by the
storm surge. Still, we suspected some of our hardest work was
ahead of us. We all knew as teachers in NJ that we had to help
our students understand the scope of what happened,
acknowledge their feelings, and yet empower them to help in
the recovery, still while picking up the pieces of our personal
losses. It was no small task.

When we came back to school last week, teachers and students
all had jitters, unsure of how we would feel after two weeks of
darkness and devastation. In Westfield, NJ students and
teachers organized a grassroots effort to wear "Shore-­Centric"
clothing to show our support and solidarity with the shore
affected by the storm. Whether it was Pt Pleasant, Bay Head,
Seaside, Mantoloking, or Normandy, students and teachers felt
solidarity with the shore and its victims. All students felt
immediately connected to each other as they shared stories of
summer memories that were represented by their shirts,
sweatshirts, and hats.

Mary Dailey, a Westfield fifth grade teacher had her students
fill out a chart entitled "Storm" where they posted comments
on how the storm affected them. I decided to read the book
titled River Friendly, River Wild by Jane Kurtz to my fourth
grade students in Westfield, NJ. We compared our feelings to
the main character in the story who suffered as a result of a
flood in North Dakota.

Lisa Collins, a fifth grade teacher from Nellie Bennett School in
Point Pleasant read After The Storm, a resource to help kids
cope with natural disasters. She talked with her class about
the local flooding and how it affected them. They planned on
writing thank-­‐you notes to people who helped in the recovery
for the past two weeks. Carolyn Meyer and Elizabeth Fallivene,
both elementary school teachers from Bay Head School in Bay
Head, NJ started their first day back at Antrim Elementary
School, a nearby school in Point Pleasant Beach while their
school remained powerless and damaged by the storm. Their
students were among those directly affected by Hurricane
Sandy's wrath.

So regardless of where our students reside in the state of New
Jersey, all teachers are doing their best to help our students to
acknowledge and validate their feelings. Then, we are
empowering our students to assist in the recovery effort in any
small way that they can whether by making donations of food,
clothing, cleaning supplies, housing, or even a card of support
and love for those who lost so much. This is how our students
are learning to be "Jersey Strong."