Sixth-graders take safety into their own hands

As part of the MIddle School's FLEx program, sixth-graders learned about how best to prepare for an earthquake and other emergencies. The unit addressed various aspects of disaster preparedness, including taking care of oneself and contributing to the care of one’s household.

Students first heard from Perry Helm, a volunteer with the Pasadena Fire Department and the Map Your Neighborhood Program, who taught them how to turn off a gas valve, outlined the key things to do in the first hour following an earthquake, and provided each student with a red bag listing steps for a disaster action plan. They learned how to make underbed disaster kits and discussed the importance of each item. During the demonstration, Helm taught the students about making sure they not only had food and water for the people in their household, but also for their pets. The students seemed to really connect with Helms and were engaged during his presentation. “He really cares about the community,” says Kaylin Y. The information Helms provided “makes you scared in a good way,” shares Teddy R.

The students then prepared a poster that outlined what to do during an earthquake, what do to right after the shaking stops, and what supplies are needed for a disaster kit. Students then used the posters to talk with their families about what they had learned.

The sixth-graders recognized the potential impact of their presentations. Malcolm V. gave his presentation first to his parents and then to his sister. Looking back, he says he would have talked to them at the same time. Peter P. mentioned that he made sure his brother and sister paid attention because the information was so important. All of the students who discussed the project agreed that they felt like they helped their families understand the importance of being prepared through their presentations. When his younger sisters became “freaked out” during his presentation, Elliott R. gently told them “That’s why I’m explaining this to you.”

Lily H. shares, “I talked to my parents and they realized we were not as prepared as it seemed.” The experience was “really intense,” she says. Through the conversation, her family became more mindful about what they need to do to be prepared, such as making sure they have gloves, socks, and shoes near their beds and establishing an out-of-state contact. Lily admitted that she was a bit nervous about presenting her poster to her parents: “What if my parents have a question I can’t answer?”

Later in the unit, students met with Dave Yamaoka, Poly's manager of safety and sustainability, who gave them a look in Poly's supply bunker and let them taste the long-term food bars. In addition to search and rescue and First Aid supplies, walkie-talkies, and items to keep students occupied in the event of an extended containment, Poly’s bunker contains enough water and food for 1,000 people for three days. Students were able to sample the cans of water with a 50-year shelf life and the meal rations. Some went home and told their parents they should look into to having similar supplies at home. Gaia D. shared that “it felt good to know that I could do something about it.” Discovering that his family has a plan in place, Kamryn said “I was happy to know we are already prepared.”

Incorporating a global perspective, students talked about the earthquake that devastated Nepal in 2015. They read stories about survivors and about how buildings were destroyed due to liquefaction. They discovered that the water became contaminated and how that affected families and their animals. The students reflected on similarities between this earthquake and those that happen in the U.S. They also identified differences, such as the fact that Nepal is more rural and their buildings were not constructed to withstand such strong seismic activity. They discussed how the U.S. is a “well established” country and has significantly more resources. They also discussed how disasters such as these tend to draw people together as they work to provide resources and assistance.

Sixth-grade science teacher Susan Bartow, who led the sixth-grade faculty in a collaboration to develop the lesson plans for this unit, asked the students what they might do differently if they were the teacher of this unit. Elliott said he likes to learn from videos, and Malcolm agreed and added, “Maybe we don’t do a poster — maybe we make a video instead!”

Peter found the program interesting: “When Mr. Helms and Mr. Yamaoka talked to us and we saw the bunker, I was intrigued.” Another commented, “Now I know things that I wouldn’t know otherwise. Kamryn C. reflected on how he felt after learning about what to include in a disaster plan: “It was all stuff that I have … I felt a bit of relief.”
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