Hurricane Michael Story

We spoke with Garry W. McGiboney, Ph.D, Deputy Superintendent of Policy and External Affairs at the Georgia Department of Education and Cheryl Benefield, Program Manager for Safe and Drug-Free Schools at the Georgia Department of Education about their efforts to provide services to school systems devastated Michael by Hurricane.

Dr. McGibboney spoke to the superintendents of those school systems, who expressed concerns about the prevalence of trauma in the students and staff members. This prompted Dr. McGibboney to reach out to the United States Department of Education, and they agreed to cover the cost of Bereavement Training for educators dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in South Georgia Communities. The training was held in Seminole County, January 30-31st.

Question: If you could tell me about the process for getting this project organized – all of the stakeholders, and sort of cooperation you needed from state/local groups.

Answer: The US Department of Education’s Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools Technical Assistance Center (REMS TA Center) provided the trainers and handled registration as part of their response to Hurricane Michael. Organizing the training for educators in impacted counties simply required conversations and emails with school district personnel in those areas so that they could identify key staff to attend. Pulling together the Crisis Response Team took a little more effort as it included both educators from around the state as well as mental health, health, and substance abuse professionals. Members had to be available to be in South Georgia for two days last week and then commit to deploying to support schools or districts in the event of a natural disaster or other crisis. The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities was a key partner as they worked with us to identify personnel from their regional offices to join the team. It all came together thanks to the support of Superintendent Woods, several divisions within Georgia Department of Education, local school districts, drug free coalitions, and DBHDD.

Q: Did you come across any sort of resistance?

A: Not at all. In fact, we were already receiving requests for additional trainings before the first one occurred.

Q: What was the standard plan for large impact events such as hurricane Michael, and why did you feel this current response was needed, as opposed to what was already available?

A: The previous statewide plan was reactive rather than proactive. We reached out and asked what or if local school districts needed assistance but we didn’t have a coordinated plan or a team in place to deploy to impacted areas. Now we will go to school districts at the sight of the crisis and help them identify what they need and work directly with GEMA and other state agencies and non- profits to identify resources.

Q: What knowledge did you gain from meeting with the training team?  

A: Just as we all know the importance of putting the oxygen mask on ourselves first so that we can help others, the training really brought home the necessity of ongoing self-care for our educators and the value of peer support. When staff members take care of themselves and work together to care for each other, they will be much more able to care for their students. This, then, can serve as the basic foundation for creating a school climate that is safe, nurturing, and supportive for all. We now have 24 trainers from around the state who can support school and district staff by providing training in Resilience Strategies for Educators.