The coming weeks, months and years will be difficult ones, as areas impacted by hurricanes attempt to rebuild. Finding ways to keep the area’s children safe and healthy will be of paramount importance. Because children spend so much of their time in schools, it is essential to provide adequate attention and resources to the rebuilding of the area’s schools, both in their infrastructure and their services.
Some of the issues are obvious: It is essential to make sure outdoor play spaces are clean and usable, that drinking water in the building is safe and to remediate post-flood mold and mildew that can cause dangerous respiratory conditions and aggravate asthma. But the health and wellness of school children also requires attention to some less obvious details, such as making sure that the chemicals used to clean the school buildings are safe for children and are not themselves respiratory irritants.
Children are more susceptible to environmental risks than adults, and therefore need more protection. For example, children consume more air and food than adults do on a pound for pound basis. Access to nutritious food and clean air is essential to their growth and development, and exposure to contaminants due to environmental disasters is amplified.
Safe school buildings are an essential first step, but ensuring the health and wellness of the area’s schoolchildren also requires thoughtful attention to ensuring schools can continue providing key services. For instance, making sure that school meals are meeting the school day and weekend nutritional needs of children who may no longer be living in housing with kitchen facilities. Or making sure there are adequate numbers of school nurses, school counselors and community health organizations providing effective screening for children who may be suffering profound physical or emotional effects from the flooding and subsequent disruption.
Schools play such an important role in children’s lives and that is even more true when disaster strikes. When there is instability in the home life of students, schools can serve as a critical stabilizer, keeping children safe, healthy, protected and cared for.
Our partners at AASA, the School Superintendents Association, have a great collection of resources on how to support school districts in the wake of these disasters. HSC will be tracking this issue closely and will share any future opportunities about how you can take action to ensure student health and school wellness is prioritized in the impact areas.