By Paul Bowers
The Charleston area has been spared the brunt of so many near-miss hurricanes and tropical storms in recent years, emergency management officials are starting to worry that residents won’t take the next one seriously.
Charleston’s director of emergency management, Shannon Scaff, is bringing in some help to solve the problem of “hurricane complacency,” as the attitude is called.
His assistants? Freshman students at downtown Charleston’s Burke High School.
On Friday morning, Scaff helped arrange for a Coast Guard rescue helicopter to fly over Harmon Field, the soccer field next to Burke, where it hovered two stories above midfield. A Coast Guard airman rappelled down to the grass and back up before the aircraft made a landing and powered down.
Students watched and asked questions. A few interviewed guardsmen about their jobs and the rescue missions they had completed, shooting footage for a possible video project. The students are still in a fact-gathering and planning phase of a program that’s meant to bring classroom learning to bear on real-world problems.
Burke’s public awareness project is the latest effort of Kids Teaching Flood Resilience, an initiative of the University of South Carolina’s Center for Science Education. Program Director Merrie Koester has previously worked with students at Charleston Development Academy and Simmons Pinckney Middle on similar projects, including a public service announcement that took the form of a rap music video.
“If we study the forces that cause a hurricane to come together, it begins with a drawing in of energy,” Koester said. “We had the students drawing pictures of hurricanes and imagining themselves as forces of energy coming together around impacts of flooding in vulnerable communities — especially theirs.”
The students working on the project are freshmen in Burke’s award-winning New Tech Network initiative, a national program that features combined classrooms and project-based learning. Teachers Peter Locher and Benjamin Plants are teaching a joint ninth-grade class in earth science and world geography, allowing students to explore everything from Mars colonization to hurricane preparedness in a distinctly hands-on classroom.
“This project right here, this helps us learn things about hurricanes,” said Diavion Corbett, 15. “We’re learning things from people who’ve seen it in person.”
For some students, freshman year at Burke has been a big shift from eighth grade in more ways than one.
“It’s very different,” said Jamari Richardson, 14. “We’ve got bigger opportunities.”