Before Hurricane Irma’s winds were whipping until the schools were ready to open Monday, School District of Palm Beach County employees were there to help the community prepare, cope and recover from the storm’s effects.
The District’s Facilities teams shuttered schools prior to the storm, and a small team worked throughout Irma to ensure the 13 schools serving as storm shelters had working generators and operated as well as possible while Irma’s winds and rains lashed the area. Transportation Services employees drove buses filled with residents of Belle Glade, Pahokee and South Bay to evacuate to storm shelters in the east before Irma’s arrival. Administrators at the 13 schools serving as storm shelters opened their doors to more than 17,000 people that sought refuge, while School Food Service (SFS) employees provided three meals each day. More than 145 School Police officers stayed in the shelters from Friday through Monday.
Beyond supplying security, School Police officers also found ways to connect with the people in the shelters, ease the fears of the children and even found time to dance and exercise.
Officers Diaz and Allen, who were stationed at John I Leonard High School for the storm, joined in an impromptu chair Zumba class for elderly residents, and even made friends with a World War II vet while they passed the time.
Officer Chuck King met with children and handed out stickers, bracelets and plenty of high fives to the children in the shelter at Palm Beach Gardens High School to ease the nerves of the littlest evacuees. The party continued at the school where residents who showed up with guitars and drums and provided entertainment that even Officer Lammie couldn’t resist, jumping right in for a dance to lighten the mood and provide a moment of joy during what was surely a worrisome experience.
After the storm, School Food Service quickly turned their attention to the families who were struggling to find food, and over two days provided more than 7,300 breakfasts and lunches to any child under 18 and accompanying adult who needed a meal after Irma. The department was granted permission by the state of Florida to also provide free lunches to all students until Friday, October 20.
The District’s Facilities department worked overtime before and after Irma. Once the skies cleared, teams quickly deployed to assess conditions at every school and begin to clean up what the storm had brought. The team worked closely with Florida Power & Light and Lake Worth Utilities to ensure power was restored to every campus before the doors could open to welcome children back.
Now, after seven missed school days, the entire District team – especially the teachers – must continue to step up to help students return to normalcy and make up for lost academic time.
However, like any other time, the focus remains on the children, and in the face of nature’s challenges, The School District of Palm Beach County continues to pull together to #MakeItCountPBC!