To qualitatively describe interventions by schools to meet children's needs after the May 2011 Joplin, Missouri tornado.
Qualitative exploratory study conducted six months after the tornado. Key informant interviews with school staff (teachers, psychologists, guidance counselor, nurse, principal), public health official, and physicians.
After the tornado, school staff immediately worked to contact every enrolled child to provide assistance and coordinate recovery services. Despite severe damage to half of the city's schools, the decision was made to reopen schools at the earliest possible time to provide a safe, reassuring environment and additional services. An expanded summer school session emphasized child safety and emotional wellbeing. The 2011-2012 school year began on time, less than three months after the disaster, using temporary facilities. Displaced children were bused to their usual schools regardless of their new temporary residence locations. In just-in-time training sessions, teachers developed strategies to support students and staff experiencing anxiety or depression. Certified counselors conducted school-based, small-group counseling for students. Selective referrals were made to community mental health providers for children with greatest needs.
Evidence from Joplin adds to a small body of empirical experience demonstrating the important contribution of schools to postdisaster community recovery. Despite timely and proactive services, many families and children struggled after the tornado. Improvements in the effectiveness of postdisaster interventions at schools will follow from future scientific evidence on optimal approaches.
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