Hurricane Michael wasn’t my first experience with a major storm. In the autumn of 2004, four hurricanes, beginning with Charley, and followed by Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne, impacted one part of Florida or another. I was teaching 5th graders at Croton Elementary in Melbourne that year, and it seemed that through much of August and September my students and I were either prepping for a storm or cleaning up after one.
Prepping at school meant wrapping all of our electronics, computers, monitors, and books in heavy duty garbage bags, securing the openings with duct tape, and placing them as high as possible in the classroom. Then after the storms passed we had to take everything down, remove the tape, and put things back where they belonged. Networked computers had to be put back on line, and books matched with students.
The school was fortunate, and we never had any significant damage, but every time a storm’s predicted path indicated Melbourne might be hit, the drill to prepare was carried out to a “t.”
Since some of this prep and de-prep had to take place during the school day, we made learning games out of the process. I taught math and science, so my students measured the equipment to be stored during the storm and estimated the minimum amount of bags and tape we’d need to do the job. They measured shelves and cabinets to see where the equipment could be stored best. They learned to code tags for computer equipment in order to get everything running smoothly again as quickly as possible. We did job efficiency studies afterwards to see where we expended unnecessary energy and what we should do differently if there was a next time.
We didn’t realize when we prepped for Charley that we’d be doing it again for three more storms, but the students made charts and checklists just in case, so we’d be ready to go into action if another storm hit. By Hurricane Jeanne, we were operating like a well-oiled, if slightly weary, machine.
The team prep work seemed to take some of the anxiety out of waiting for storms to hit, and the games helped minimize the learning time lost to the storms. And when we came back together after the various storms had passed, students were engaged in problem solving and trouble shooting, instead of worrying about the lack of electricity at home, at least for a portion of the day.
That was a tough year for all of us, but I have only good memories of working with that group of children. Studly and I moved to Illinois at the end of the school year, and I’ve lost touch with those students, but I hope the ones who stayed in hurricane country remember those days of prepping for the storms as good ones.