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How Harmony Can Help Students Cope with the Trauma of Hurricane Harvey & Irma

As floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey and Irma recede, the recent chaos and emotional upheaval of the past few weeks will start to have an especially negative impact on our students. As our children return to school, they may exhibit a variety of emotions: fear, anxiety, shock, denial, depression, aggression, and dissociative behavior. Teachers will play a crucial role in post-hurricane recovery by providing dependable schedules, routines, and activities; establishing classroom goals; and building supportive classroom communities.

Your Harmony toolkit is a tremendous resource to help you increase student empathy, compassion, self-awareness, and problem solving. The toolkit will also help you build a strong classroom community and a safe space for students to process their trauma.

Let’s take a look at how the components of your toolkit will support your classroom in the weeks ahead:

HARMONY GOALS – The key to building a healthy learning community is to collaboratively establish goals and expectations about how students want to be treated. As you help students develop goals, consider the importance of understanding and supporting one another in the aftermath of a hurricane. We all have different ways of processing trauma and it’s important to develop perspective, empathy, and compassion for one another. If your classroom selects a goal to be understanding or helpful, take time to share examples of acts of kindness and support for one another.

MEET UP – Meet Up is a safe and comfortable routine that provides students with ongoing opportunities to share experiences, exchange ideas, solve problems, and establish meaningful and inclusive relationships, so that all students feel connected and valued in their classroom.  During Meet Up, students learn about their own and other’s feelings and ways to express them. Students will value the time invested to build a nurturing classroom community. Here are some Meet Up tips:

  • Use Meet Up as an ongoing opportunity for children to share and ask questions.
  • Follow students’ leads and don’t force discussions on children.
  • Answer questions honestly without dwelling on details.
  • Model that there are many types of emotions and students are safe to express them.
  • Help students find the positive things within the disaster. Discuss how people have helped one another, volunteered, or demonstrated heroic actions.

QUICK CONNECTION (QC) CARDS – QC cards include conversation and collaboration topics for Meet Up and Buddy Up discussions and activities and provide peers with opportunities to share, think, and connect. These activities help students process trauma in a safe setting:

QC Conversations:

Grades Pre-K-2

  • What is something that makes you feel nervous or worried? What can you do to feel less nervous?
  • When you are feeling sad, what can you do to feel better?

Grades 3-6

  • “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” – Thomas Edison
  • What might make you feel like giving up?
  • What motivates you to keep trying?
  • What special belonging do you have that you hope to still have when you return to your home?

BUDDY UP – The goal of Buddy Up is to intentionally bring diverse peers together to learn about classmates with whom they may not typically choose to spend as much time, while broadening their social and learning experiences. Having and being a “Buddy” enhances a student’s sense of connection, shared motivation, and social responsibility toward one another.

QC Collaborations:

  • Add-on Picture: Create a picture with your Buddy by taking turns adding to the drawing. Switch the drawer each time the pencil comes off the picture. (Relate drawing to situational experiences during the storm.)
  • Keep It Up: Pass a balloon back and forth with your Buddy and try to keep it off the floor. Share how your family or community helps others during difficult times.


You’ll find that the five Harmony themes include many helpful opportunities to understand diversity and build inclusion, increase empathy and critical thinking, enhance communication and problems solving, and build peer relationships in your classroom.

Unit 1 – DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION is an excellent way to begin your school year and to create community in your classroom through activities that highlight the things students have in common, their unique talents, and what they can learn from one another.

Unit 2 – EMPATHY AND CRITICAL THINKING will help your students develop a better understanding of how and why their peers react to trauma and express emotions in different ways.

Grades Pre-K-2 units feature stories about Z and the treehouse friends. Through the stories, lessons, and activities, children learn to identify how various emotions look, sound, and feel.  Students practice predicting how a peer might feel in different situations and reflect on reasons why people have different feelings. Children learn about empathy and brainstorm ways to show empathy.

Grade 3 lessons encourage students to think critically, recognize other’s feelings, and develop empathy. Children learn to recognize changes in themselves and others and to promote flexible and non-stereotyped thinking.

Grade 4 activities and games provide opportunities for students to develop empathy, focus on positive changes in themselves and others, and reduce stereotyping. Students learn that their thoughts influence their feelings and behaviors and develop tools to change their thoughts so they can interact with one another in positive ways.

Grades 5-6 lessons and role playing help students learn that when faced with the same situation, people feel and react differently. Identifying other’s feelings and perspectives allows us to understand them and provide support.

The year ahead will be one of changes, challenges, and growth for our students. Your role in building a supportive learning community for your students will be essential to their success. The Harmony toolkits will prove to be a valuable resource to help students cope with trauma.