Schools Help Children Cope With Lingering Fears From Flood

10/20/11 5:50PM By Susan Keese
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VPR/Susan Keese
Fifth- and sixth-graders at Chester-Andover Elementary School started sorting out their feelings about Tropical Storm Irene flooding by putting words and phrases on a poster board.
(Host) Two months after Tropical Storm Irene, school routines and bus routes are getting back to normal in many parts of Vermont. But normal is a long way off for some families. And, as VPR's Susan Keese reports, educators say some students are coming to school with new anxieties.

(Pratt) "Good morning, girls."

(Parent) "Good morning, Mr. Pratt."

(Keese) It's another rainy morning in Newfane. Chris Pratt, the principal at Newbrook Elementary, is in his usual morning spot outside the door, greeting students as they arrive.

(Pratt) "It's a good opportunity for me to see the parents and the kids. It's a smiling face in the morning. A lot of them are coming in with some anxieties."

(Keese) Newbrook School counselor Emily Bullock says parents have been calling on rainy days like this one, asking her to check in on their child.

(Bullock) "So there's still some ongoing anxiety for kids. They have fears around when it starts to rain or there's a thunderstorm, that is it going to happen again, and will they have to leave their home."

(Keese) Bullock says it's helpful when parents let the school know their kids are having a hard time. She says anxiety can show up as a stomach ache or an inability to focus. And she says it isn't only those who lost the most who are affected.

(Bullock) "We're finding that even for kids who didn't have damage to their homes, they certainly saw damage to their town... And they watched the storm or they saw bridges washed out."

(Keese) They also saw communities pull together as people helped and cared for each other.

Bullock says that's helped a lot. And she says in art class, the Newbrook students made super heroes, with capes, from aluminum foil.

(Bullock) "And on the capes, kids wrote the things that were helpful to them since the storm or things they did to help others. And one parent said to me the other day that they keep their superhero on the dash of their car."

(Keese) All over the state, students have been telling their flood stories.

(Gray) "And I think it's all been a healing process and a healing process that will continue for a while still."

(Keese) Scott Gray is principal at Chester-Andover Elementary.

Fifth- and sixth-graders at his school started sorting out their feelings by putting words and phrases on a board.

(Deidre Moore) " Horrifying. Evacuate. Flash flood."

(Willow Atwater) "Destroyed. Power lines down."

(Brian Anderson) "Shocking and completely devastated... More than 200 roads washed out."

(Smith) "Powerful"

(Keese) Fifth grader Brooks Smith says Irene changed the way he thinks about water.

(Smith) "It just scares me how high and how powerful it can get."

(Keese) One teacher took his class to a stream, to study some of the science behind that power.

Others have encouraged kids to see the storm as a bit of history in which they played a part.

Fifth- and sixth-grade teacher Jeremy Kelloway had his students write essays right away - like this one, read by sixth-grader Katie Pare. 

(Pare) "I went to the town garage and I helped many people with water and other needs. And I really enjoyed helping people."

(Keese) Kelloway says the memories are beginning to fade, for some children more than others. And he didn't want them to forget the details of a storm they'll be telling their grandchildren about someday.

For VPR News, I'm Susan Keese.

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