11/27/2012 02:49 pm ET Updated Jan 27, 2013

After Sandy: Back to School, Back to Normal

As schools reopen in some of the hardest hit communities in New York and New Jersey, it feels like life, at last, is beginning to get back to normal.

In the wake of a natural disaster, rebuilding homes, repairing transportation infrastructure, and restoring power are understandably a primary focus of relief efforts and dollars. But it is important to focus on reopening and resupplying our schools, as well.

Perhaps more than any other modern institutions, schools anchor a community. During Hurricane Sandy, many local schools were literally a source of shelter in the storm. But the support schools provide goes far beyond education alone, even on a normal day. They offer childcare, counseling, meals for disadvantaged students, and a sense of security.

Kids need routine, and the support network of their peers and friends, as much as they need classroom learning itself. As New Jersey high school student Olivia Savage, 16, told a reporter the day her school reopened, "I'm happy so we can be back into a routine."

Morgan Fields, a high school freshman in New York City, agreed. Fields told the New York Times that "she was glad to be back. 'I secretly missed school,'" she said.

Having their kids back in class is also important for many parents, for whom returning to work may be a challenge if other childcare options are not available.

But reopening school doors is just the first step. Many classrooms lost all of their books, science equipment, art supplies, and other learning tools. The range of things a school needs to get back to the business of teaching and learning is vaster than many of us could ever imagine.

"Our most pressing need is for a copy machine so that we can duplicate material for our students," one Staten Island middle school teacher told in an email a few days after the storm.

Another teacher, in Far Rockaway, N.Y., emailed us to say her school needs basic items including tissues, hand sanitizer and paper towels. Still others have requested funds to help provide food for their students, many of whom were displaced from their homes by the storm.

For at least one New Jersey teacher, it was those basic necessities that stood out most. "It was great to return to a somewhat normal school day -- with heat, a good lunch and snack time," she wrote.

The Huffington Post reported that, "in Belmar, N.J., Belmar Elementary School teachers went door-to-door, offering help to their students victimized by the storm."

Above and beyond the call of duty? Perhaps. But in my experience, teachers everywhere are a lifeline for their students. It's up to us to be a lifeline for them.

How You Can Help is working to empower teachers with the funds they need to restock their classrooms and provide for their students. Along with our partner OfficeMax, has set up a special program -- Heal the HuRT (Hurricane Relief for Teachers) -- to direct funds to schools hit by the hurricane.

We know that in a disaster, every day counts -- and every day is different. That's why, in order to provide assistance as quickly as possible, we're putting funds into teachers' individual accounts even as donations continue to come in. And it's why we always give teachers the flexibility to spend donated dollars as they see fit -- something that's more important now than ever as the situation evolves and teachers respond to the changing needs of their students.

The storm may have passed, but teachers and students on the Eastern Seaboard have a long way to go to put their lives, communities and classrooms back together. But we can help -- and we hope you'll join us.