The New Dynamic That is Education

In my last post I wrote about the start of this American school year and the enormous impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on school as well as our children. I also wrote about the effects natural and environmental disasters (hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires) are having .

Little did I know that would effect me personally.

Back on September 3rd, my region of New Jersey was pounded by the remains of Hurricane Ida. We received an enormous amount of rainfall as well as high winds. Some very dear friends suffered severe damage to their homes and/or businesses. The street around the corner from me became so flooded, it was littered with abandoned cars and trucks. In the aftermath, I received an email from my school district telling me one of my buildings (which houses schools for developmentally and/or physically disabled students as well as at-risk students) was going to be closed because: “…three feet of debris filled water surged through the entire 60,000 square foot building causing extensive damage to all classrooms, school technology, and the gym…”

That school is now closed for at least 4 months.

Mind you, my district had finally returned to full in-person instruction for the second half of last school year. We were also able to be in-person for our extended school year which ended August 13th. To suddenly have to return to remote, just as the new year was about to get started, is completely disheartening not just for the kids, but also us teachers.

My district was not the only one effected by Ida. Schools in Louisiana as well as other parts of the south, and most of the east coast were all impacted. In the aftermath of Ida, New Orleans was doubly effected not just by rain and floodwaters but mass power outages. There was also extreme heat in the wake of the storm, and their schools were unable to open not only because they had no power…but also no air conditioning. As I am writing this, Texas and (again) Louisiana, are being pounded by tropical storm Nicholas. Both states declared states of emergency. Yet more schools and students will undoubtedly be effected. Mind you, this is all happening in the midst of a global pandemic that has killed more than 4.6 million people globally and 666,630 Americans.

Back in 2020, when my district switched to a full-time remote model, the principals and administrators at my school (that is currently closed) worked so hard to ensure that all of the kids (many of whom, in addition to being disabled, and at-risk, come to school out of poverty) had appropriate technology in place and were able to be taught. Now, they have to begin the process of looking for an alternative building and/or securing good technology infrastructure…again. This is in addition to creating class lists, assigning classrooms, being in touch with parents, therapists, and other professionals to make sure comprehensive Individualized Education Plans (IEP’s) are in place, securing bus routes and assigning bus aids. In other words: the daily processes of running a school.

In addition to losing a school building, we teachers also lost many personal items used in classrooms. Books were destroyed as were computers. We also have therapists (occupational and speech) in our school and they lost important equipment that aids in the development of our students. The piano in my classroom — an acoustic upright — was completely destroyed. I also had a closet full of keyboards that I used with my at-risk students. They were all ruined. These things are not only going to have to be accounted for, but replaced. Much of the equipment and things we teachers use for our work were purchased over the course of years and with our own money. Trying to sort out what the district paid for and what we paid for could prove to be extremely difficult.

As the years go on, these types of natural events are becoming more prevalent to the education process. Again, I live in a region of the country that, over the course of the last few years, has been victim to some serious environmental disasters. Hurricane Irene (2011) came at the end of the summer, and caused mass power outages. As a result, homes suffered mass flood damage (mine being one of them) and many kid’s home lives were impacted. Then in 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit and not only caused severe damage, and more power outages, but also impacted the school year as the storm occurred in October. Sandy had an enormous impact on the state and caused billions of dollars worth of damage. We were told that Hurricane Irene was a “100 year event”. A year later Sandy hit. Then just 10 years later, Ida.

As time goes on, and there appears to be no end in sight to the pandemic, consider the opportunities that were taken away from students as a result. It wasn’t just proms and sporting events that have been cancelled. It was jobs, internships, class trips, concerts, and social outings. These things all effect how our kids grow, develop, learn, and ultimately their developing sense of self identity, let alone their futures. Combine the stress of a global pandemic with that of environmental or natural disasters, and you begin to get a glimpse into the dynamic world that is today’s education system.

These events impact the school year in ways many don’t consider. When students lose homes, or their home suffers damage, they lose personal belongings and possibly a family pet. Their lives are disrupted as are their daily routines. They see, feel and hear the stress their parents are experiencing. This will ultimately affect how they learn — and as these events become more prevalent, and affect more and more kids, my big question is: Are we training our future teachers to be the creative and dynamic individuals they now have to be?

Are teachers being trained to be ready to move to full remote learning within one days notice? Are teachers being trained to suddenly have to change to a new building where they will be in classrooms lacking materials they’ve been using for years? It’s also important to remember that the American school population is comprised of 7.1 million children who require special education services. Are teachers being trained to acommodate these students in these extraordinary times? It’s also important to consider that mass power outages mean — that even if we wanted to — shifting to a remote learning model is impossible. Computers don’t run without electricity. So, are we developing creative plans and protocols to accommodate lengthy periods without power? Are things like outdoor classrooms as well as alternative learning sights a part of school readiness programs? Are they included in the development of our national education policies?

In addition to the above, there are other logistical and policy questions to consider: Is it the responsibility of the state and/or Federal governments to cover the costs for teachers to setup remote classrooms in their homes? When the pandemic first hit, we all saw how many teachers were made to teach from their closets and/or bathrooms. Is it solely the teacher’s responsibility to set up technology, buy reliable equipment, and outfit a room in their home so they can be ready to make the shift to remote learning? Should the summer — typically a 7 to 8 week period where many teachers are away from school — now be a time where teachers receive extensive staff development, further technology training, and have the opportunity to take courses in creative teaching approaches? Should summer also be used to accommodate students who suffered some kind of loss whether due to a natural disaster or otherwise? This would mean teachers working 12 months a year which would ultimately mean taxes increasing.

Are we even considering questions like this?

The world is rapidly changing right before our eyes. These policy questions are not hyperbolic but real, relevant questions specific not just to the education of our children, but also their growth, development, and overall well being. They’re also relevant towards the world we live in.

The job of teaching has always been a creative and dynamic profession. These times are proving that. Our children are growing up in a world where things can (and do) change overnight. We need to have protocols in place so when they do happen (and the key word is when, not if) our schools, teachers, administrators, therapists, and aids can shift right along with them. This new dynamic education is not a thing of the future, but is now. I believe it’s time to begin considering these things so our children and their futures can be tended to the best way possible.

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Patrick Cerria

Husband-Father-Musician-Educator-Dalcroze Eurhythmics Teacher-Author-Yoga Practitioner-Crohn’s Warrior-Teaches Disabled & At-Risk Children-Believes In Humanity.