PARTNER PODCAST 11-8-17: Disaster Preparedness and Curriculum “Instigators” at Episcopal School of Baton Rouge (LA)
(LISTEN TO THIS PODCAST HERE)
Featured guest Dr. Jewel Reuter, Associate Head of School for Institutional Research, Academic Innovations, and Strategic Relations at Episcopal School of Baton Rouge (coed, day, 950 students, grades PreK–12), speaks with host Peter Gow about how the school prepared and then learned from its experiences when the city and much of their campus flooded in the fall of 2016. Jewel Reuter drew on her own experiences in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina and offers anecdotes, best practices, and above all guidance for sustaining and developing a whole-child educational program and maintaining a strong school culture under even the most challenging of circumstances.
With the global climate changing and world circumstances impossible to predict, being ready for the unexpected is a challenge for schools. Jewel Reuter’s work in New Orleans during and after Katrina helped her, whether she and her colleagues wanted to or not, understand some key lessons about schools, children, communities, and curriculum.
Above all, schools in imperiled communities need to consider first and foremost how to keep their school going as a social-emotional entity, an idea and a living culture that runs deeper than a mere campus or teaching program. When Episcopal School of Baton Rouge was forced to close for more than a week during the floods of August 2016, for example, it became immediately clear that each ESBR household, student and teacher alike, was having a different experience in terms of damage and disruption. With families taking in flooded relatives and friends, even relatively “unscathed” households experienced significant effects.
With swaths of the campus unusable when school resumed and many families and faculty members still experiencing distress of varying kinds, even plans like the emergency closure lesson plans (for which teachers and students had actually “drilled,” as for a fire) were not going to be enough. Careful, thoughtful communication and opportunities to bring groups of students and adults together helped, avoiding times when anyone in the ESBR felt without community, as if the school had somehow ceased to exist. Maintaining the sense of the school in being and not shortchanging students and families of the experience they had signed on for was the critical goal.
As a school dedicated to offering a “whole-child experience,” that concept became a guiding principal at ESBR as the floods and the aftermath—physical effects lasted for the entire school year, and psychic effects continue to manifest themselves. (For example, some members of the ESBR community have experienced anxiety as the hurricanes and fires of this past fall have filled the news.) In the episode Jewel details the plans the school made and the “on the job” learning it did to bring the program back on line in all its facets—including even the athletic program and other extracurriculars, which to students represent “school” in powerful ways we don’t always fully recognize but that become critical elements of a comprehensive recovery program.
The conversation ends on a positive note, with Jewel discussing the ways in which Episcopal School of Baton Rouge has embraced innovation in multiple areas of programs. The role of “Instigator,” for example, was established to give selected teacher-leaders the time and impetus to support colleagues in the development of more hands-on curricula, all keeping a steady eye on the “whole-child” principle and on the school’s mission as an Episcopal school to support spiritual development in the context of learning.
Resources from Jewel Reuter:
- A video about the Great Flood of 2016 and how Episcopal united to recover. Narrated by Kaylee Hartung ESBR ’03, the film chronicles in factual and dramatic ways how the school was hit by the flood and how it responded.
- A school’s LMS (Learning Management System), especially if it is a real portal for interaction, can play a significant role in maintaining curriculum, learning, and connection to the school and its culture in the event of extended closure. Reuter refers specifically to Blackboard and Instructure’s Canvas.
- An existing arrangement with a commercial clean-up service can speed up the process of restoring damaged spaces to usability. Reuter refers specifically to ServPro.
- Similarly, existing arrangements with other schools or organizations or entities can allow aspects of a school’s program that have very specific facility requirements—e.g., athletics, performing arts—to continue, allowing students to have the full school experience even if on-campus spaces are unusable.
- Reuter also makes a compelling argument for including building & grounds directors as members of the administrative team. At ESBR, the director’s deep and intimate familiarity with academic and program needs sped up the recovery process.
- Author Lauren Tarshis, who worked with Episcopal School of Baton Rouge fifth graders on “Our World Turned to Water,” a nonfiction narrative of their experience. Behind-the-scenes video HERE; sneak preview HERE; and a story on the project HERE.
- Works by Sir Ken Robinson have been highly influential to Jewel Reuter and to Episcopal School of Baton Rouge’s recent work in the areas of curriculum and instruction. Among these are:
- Out of Our Minds: The Power of Being Creative (Third edition, 2017)
- Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education (with Lou Aronica, reprint edition 2016)
- Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life (with Lou Aronica, reprint edition 2014)