Cleanup of Houston, Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Harvey is just one of many natural disasters to occur this year. Photo by Randy Chapman

Around the world for the past few months of 2017, natural disasters have dominated not only the news, but also the lives of thousands who find themselves affected. The total fatalities of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are over 200, and the cost to the US territories and states that suffered damage are astronomical, stretching into the hundreds of billions of dollars as reported by CNN. These numbers are reminiscent of one of the last enormous disasters to affect the southern United States, Hurricane Katrina. Many students, staff, and Franklin parents are sympathetic to the victims of these tragedies, and furthermore many are seeking information and education about what exactly has happened and how or if they can help.

Hurricane Harvey has ravaged parts of the American South. The damage from Hurricane Irma continues to take its toll on US territories, such as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and the citizens within them. Meanwhile, the federal government struggles to provide support and relief effectively, evenly, and consistently to all affected areas.
In the face of such adversity throughout the world and the country, it’s crucial to find out what the Franklin community knows, what it can do, and most importantly what is being done right now. Parents, staff, and students have the opportunity to help as long as they are informed on the issues. Megan Whisnand, Franklin’s AP Environmental Science teacher, had this to say on how she has kept students up to date on natural disaster events: “One of the things that I would do daily is put up the global satellite images of wind patterns…so that spurs discussion.” Furthermore, she said she and her students have been having conversations focused on solutions instead of the grim realities: “There’s this balance of the reality of what’s happening… how can we take what we know and what we’re finding and creatively problem solve?”

One active problem solver in the Franklin community who has been focusing on relief and aid efforts is Randy Chapman, a Franklin parent who spent five weeks in Houston, Texas doing reconstruction work with Comcast following the disaster of Hurricane Harvey. “I was working with a group called Comcast Cares. It is [made up of] Comcast employees that join together to do volunteer work in the community,” he said. “The bulk of the work being done is for people that did not have flood insurance…the main part of what we did was to help gut the houses.”  Chapman stated that most of the immediate cleanup in Houston is done, and suggests that focus should start to shift towards other causes.

One such cause, also an example of creative student problem solving, is the Aid for Puerto Rico donation fund that sprung up from the coalition of government classes here at Franklin and their teacher, Portia Hall. The students have collected donation funds (in support of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands in the wake of Hurricane Irma) beginning on October 9, with a goal of $1000. The relief support to this area by the government has been a topic of controversy, specifically because of President Trump’s warnings of withdrawal of support. As a result, citizen support groups like the student fund are incredibly important at this time. “Ms. Hall presented the project to us,” said Jillian Britton (12). “She said she wanted to do this as an assignment for us. Last year, people did the mock election because that was the year of the election… outside of election years she wants us to do some kind of relief project.” Britton further explained the reasoning behind the fund. “This class is about ‘adulting’, and part of that is caring about the world. This is a good way to do that.”

Hall also commented on the project, saying, “I want there to be a real world project… with the crisis in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, the lack of awareness is why I decided on that cause. But everything else was done by students.” Britton explained the student work: “Some of the classes did research on the history of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, while our class mostly collected money.” Britton was frank about her goal the community: “Bring money and help out!”