What are the major disruptions for schools after hurricanes, and what practices can a school use to assist in recovery?
These are the questions that guide the research of Cassandra R. Davis, an assistant professor of public policy, who examines the impact of natural hazards such as hurricanes on schools and communities. She has recently extended her research to include analyzing the pandemic’s impact on schools through a natural hazards lens.
Davis spoke before a small crowd of graduate students and faculty in Dey Hall’s Toy Lounge on Oct. 13 as part of University Research Week.
In her talk, Davis compared the impact of two hurricanes on schools — Hurricane Matthew, which hit North Carolina in 2016, and Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas the following year.
Davis said the major challenges of these events are the displacement of students and educators, structural and transportation disruptions, damage to equipment and the impact on people’s personal lives.
Davis emphasized that hurricanes affect all aspects of a schooling community, a group that includes educators, administrators, families and students. As a former classroom teacher, Davis said she has empathy for the struggles that educators face.
Davis addressed the often-overlooked issues that teachers encounter during natural hazard events. Like students and their families, they deal with physical displacement, weather-related anxiety, post-trauma stress and potential loss of loved ones in the wake of hurricanes.
She emphasized the mental and emotional impact that hurricanes have on already overworked educators.
“Mental health is a beast,” Davis said.
Educators are often responsible for coordinating efforts to make sure students get to school and continue to learn so as not to miss instructional days. Davis found that a high percentage of schools acted as shelters for students at some point during Hurricane Matthew. In North Carolina, an educator is legally required to be on site if students stay at the school, so this was an additional responsibility they faced.
Davis recommends that schools improve their natural hazard protocols to include efforts to support educators, students and families. She also suggests schools consider natural hazards when shaping curricula to allow for more missed instructional hours, that they push to return to familiar routines as quickly as possible after such an event to minimize disruption, and that they provide counseling services to the entire schooling community.
Davis emphasizes the importance of addressing all affected parties when natural hazards hit. Her goal is to support educators, community leaders and policymakers to improve mitigation strategies, preparedness, response and recovery in areas with the highest need.
“I really try to push in my work not to just focus on one person or group, but to recognize that we’re all connected.”
Read more about Davis’ research on her website.
By Andy Little ‘24