As Maui schools bravely reopen their doors in the aftermath of the devastating wildfires, there lies an indispensable lesson in embracing trauma-informed care for both students and teachers.
We have never seen a disaster like this. Even the continent has never seen a more deadly wildfire in over a century. Still, there are schools and communities who have experienced similar loss and have risen from the ashes.
The road to recovery seems arduous, but drawing wisdom from the experiences of other communities, such as Sonoma County and Santa Rosa after the 2017 Tubbs fire, can restore the way for Maui’s schools to reopen and rise as beacons of resilience; a malu (peaceful shelter) of community compassion.
Trauma-Informed Care: The Foundation of Healing. In a disaster, the emotional and psychological toll on students and educators can be profound. In Sonoma and Butte counties, students who survived the fire reported anxiety triggers and trauma symptoms just from the sight or smell of smoke or fire – even when it was far away – according to a 2020 EdSource article.
Trauma-informed care recognizes that everyone responds differently to traumatic events and that an empathetic approach is crucial in fostering healing. Implementing such care in schools means understanding the signs of trauma, providing emotional support, strengthening familial and social ties, and creating a safe space for expression that frames student experiences in a way that emphasizes resilience.
Our State of Hawaiʻi Department of Education can explore lessons from Sonoma County’s approach – one that not only aided students in their recovery journey but also empowered teachers to process their own feelings, enabling them to better support their students.
Lessons from Sonoma County and Santa Rosa. The Tubbs fire that ravaged Sonoma County in 2017 left indelible scars, but it also illuminated a path to recovery that Maui’s schools can follow. In the aftermath of the tragedy, educational leaders joined forces to create an 84-page guide was developed to help schools navigate recovery from natural disasters (see https://bit.ly/3DUjnUr).
Additionally, Sonoma County and Santa Rosa exemplified the transformative potential of schools as community hubs. Schools are often the heart of a community and these districts leveraged their facilities for resilient recovery as after-hours wellness centers. This included providing counseling services, distributing essential resources, and hosting communal gatherings to foster connection and support.
The Maui Model: Blending Compassion and Resilience. As Maui navigates its journey of recovery, you will not be alone. We are here with you. Together, we have a unique opportunity to weave the wisdom gained from Sonoma County and Santa Rosa into a new blueprint for resilience that makes sense for Maui and its people need. By embracing trauma-informed care, Maui schools can create an environment that not only focuses on academic growth but also prioritizes long-term emotional wellbeing.
Looking Ahead. The wildfires that swept across Maui will not damper the resounding spirit of community. Our lāhui stands as a galvanized, reckoning force of resilience and compassion that can drive the recovery process. As schools reopen their doors, remember that healing takes time, and it will take all of us together. Trauma-informed care, guided by the lessons of others who have faced similar challenges, can be the cornerstone of Maui’s educational recovery.
May our beloved Lahaina rise and find restoration in its inoa, “ka malu ʻulu o Lele,” the breadfruit preserve of Lele that was once planted as an offering of shelter, shade, and protection from the barren heat. We love you, Maui.