Schools play an essential role in our community. Not only do they prepare the next generation, but they are part of the social fabric that holds a place together. Here in Florida, never is that more evident than during and after a hurricane. Schools transform into shelters and keep residents and their pets safe, and after the storm passes, they serve as hubs of recovery.
These shelters are run by school administrators and staff who work tirelessly and selflessly to ensure the safety of strangers. When these schools return to their original purpose, as places of learning, administrators, teachers, and staff help restore a sense of normalcy.
When Hurricane Ian tore through Southwest Florida, it did not spare schools. Schools such as Lamarque Elementary and Heron Creek Middle sustained significant wind and water damage. And like everyone else who lives in the areas hit hardest by the hurricane, teachers, administrators, and support staff lost so much.
In neighborhoods across Sarasota County, what happened immediately before the arrival of Ian and in its aftermath was not unlike other hurricanes. Neighbors, some who hadn’t spoken in months and who have little in common, checked in on each other. They helped each other put up and take down storm shutters. They helped each other collect debris and cut up fallen trees. They shared food, water, power, whatever they had. They took in friends and family who needed a safe place to stay.
Storms have a paradoxical ability to destroy and unite. They illuminate the altruism of individuals that provides hope amidst so much damage.
At Heron Creek Middle School, the head custodian began preparing the school for the storm on September 27 and did not leave until October 8. For 12 days he didn’t leave. He worked tirelessly to protect and then fix the school so students can return to the classroom as quickly and safely as possible.
Across South Sarasota County, teachers and administrators have called homes to check in on all their students and determine their needs—even as they themselves are dealing with their own challenges.
On October 11, the school district, under the leadership of Innovation & Equity Director Dr. Harriet Moore, held a hurricane relief support event for Sarasota County Schools employees. At Suncoast Technical College in North Port, employees could register for housing assistance. They could receive gift cards to cover essential needs. They connected to local organizations such as Resilient Retreat to access emotional support. Faith groups donated food and baby formula as well as essential items such as cleaning and hygiene products and diapers. Volunteers helped teachers and staff affected by the hurricane pack supplies into boxes and carried them to their cars. A free BBQ lunch, provided by a local church, was served.
These are just a few of the many ways individuals, donors, places of worship, and foundations have rushed to support schools.
The massive undertaking to repair roofs and replace ruined carpet is inspiring because students and teachers will again breathe new life into them. Schools, after all, are much more than physical structures. That’s why it’s so essential in the coming weeks and months that we continue to unite to support schools—to champion teachers and the work they do to prepare students for life—to value the support staff who do so much to ensure schools can meet the needs of its students—to appreciate the administrative staff and their work to assist staff and students and to even run shelters—and to ensure students can access the resources and relationships they need to overcome another tremendous disruption.
Schools bring people together to celebrate budding musicians, actors, artists, and athletes. They prepare the next generation. And they provide protection in times of need. As life for many of us returns to normal, it is incumbent that we as a community continue to support schools—and each and every student—so that they remain strong and resilient, ready for the next storm, prepared to keep Sarasota County thriving.