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Here's How Teachers Stepped Up During and After This Year's Major Hurricanes

It has been a few months since Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria slammed the Gulf Coast and Puerto Rico. In the spirit of the upcoming holiday, here are a few stories of educators' generosity to be grateful for.

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Because of her actions during Harvey, Kristen McClintock, a high school special education teacher in Houston, Texas, just received a $5,000 award from the national nonprofit Honored, which spotlights a teacher across the country each month. 

"I was just really, really worried about my students [when the hurricane hit], just because they have a limited ability to cope and comprehend what's going on," she said. And when McClintock made it to a convention center, which had been transformed into a shelter for people displaced from their homes, she immediately noticed some children who appeared to have disabilities. 

"It was overstimulating—people playing loud music next to people playing loud video games, people playing indoor football ... Those kids were lost in the mess," she said. 

McClintock carved out a little corner of the busy convention center and set up a "sensory space" for students with autism or who were particularly sensitive to noise. She had sensory items like squishy toys, and soaps and gels in plastic bags that children could squeeze, water bottles that kids could shake, and noise-reducing headphones. 

Over the course of a week, she ended up helping between 30 and 40 kids, ranging from toddlers to 10-year-olds.


See also: Houston Teacher's Reading Group Comforts Students in Hurricane Aftermath


McClintock also helped organize Teachers Volunteering in Shelters, a group of more than 1,000 teachers who provided lessons and taught activities to children before the schools were able to reopen

"There are teachers across the whole city—everyone was kind of pumped and ready to start teaching," she said. "Every student in Houston is missing instructional time. We'll teach them something." 

And those "day camps"—which one student deemed "Camp Hurricane Harvey"—were especially helpful for students with special needs, McClintock said, because they provided a sense of normalcy and structure during an anxiety-inducing time. 

"We started something that really needs to keep going," McClintock said, adding that she reached out to teachers' unions in Florida to share how Texas teachers got this structure up and running, in case they needed to replicate a similar model during Hurricane Irma. 

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After Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico, teachers from the mainland were eager to help. Dorina Sackman-Ebuwa, the 2014 Florida Teacher of the Year, had launched an initaitve called "Materials for Maestros," where mainland schools can "adopt" an island school, and send school supplies and letters of encouragement and support. In an update letter to the National Network of State Teachers of the Year, Sackman-Ebuwa said teachers have been able to help more than six schools in Puerto Rico. 

More than 13 mainland teachers volunteered to be part of the effort, Sackman-Ebuwa said. For example, Kim Condurso, a teacher in New Jersey, sent boxes of books and resources to create English-language libraries in Puerto Rico schools. Those resources and other donated materials will be shared with schools in rural regions, which are particularly in need of help. 


See also: Puerto Rico Faces Huge Challenges in Rebuilding, Reinventing K-12 Education


Other teachers sent additional supplies, including toiletries and canned goods. 

"... An orphanage, La Casa de Todos in Juncos, PR, will now have books, school supplies, etc.," wrote Arlene Fajardo de Velazquez, a teacher on the island, in a social media post.

"The games and balls, I will distribute amongst both [the orphanage and a Catholic church] so maybe [they] can have like a game center. The priest lost everything inside the church and just reinvented the space for homeless students and families. Education is first here, and everywhere you look, there is some need." 

First image courtesy of Honored, by Nathan Lindstrom. Second image by Swikar Patel/Education Week. 

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