Public Safety

Schools Adopt County Disaster Lessons

What causes natural disasters and how can I make sure I’m safe?

Fifth grade students at a San Carlos elementary school have just started learning about the science of natural disasters such as wildfires, earthquakes, and they will even examine why Mount St. Helens erupted. It’s part of a special new curriculum, called “Be Aware, Be Prepared!”, developed locally by the San Diego County Office of Emergency Services and San Diego County Office of Education. Students will also learn research methodology, language arts, writing and presentation skills.

“This topic is relevant, even with kids; San Diego County has proclaimed local emergencies three times over the past 11 years,” said Holly Crawford, director of the County Office of Emergency Services. “ The whole idea is to get safety information to students at the right age — to instill in children the importance of understanding why these emergencies happen and the need to be prepared for natural disasters so they can remain safe.”

“As part of their lesson plan, they are also tasked with presenting what they learn to their peers. In doing this, they may galvanize others to take disaster preparedness steps in their own homes,” she said.

The curriculum meets the state’s Common Core standards of English Language Arts and Next Generation Science, said Kira Shearer, English language arts coordinator for the San Diego County Office of Education and author of the curriculum. The state Office of Emergency Services plans to replicate and offer the curriculum to other counties in the state.

San Diego Unified School District is the first in the County to adopt the curriculum. A fifth grade class taught by Jan Armstrong at Benchley-Weinberger Elementary is among the first to begin the curriculum.

On Friday, Crawford talked to the class about why studying natural disasters is important. All of the children raised their hands to indicate they remembered the blackout in 2011. Although it was a man-made emergency, the students learned a power outage could occur during a natural disaster and participated in a discussion about measures that can be taken to prepare for such an emergency.

“First of all, the kids love science. It’s an engaging curriculum. It’s high interest for kids,” said Benchley-Weinberger Principal M.C. Patton. “Everyone wants to talk about hurricanes and disasters, and it also fits in with the Common Core curriculum. It fits in with questioning and deeper thinking and how it affects us.”

Students so far are “really excited” and especially like the online activities built into the curriculum, said Armstrong. They also like the option of exploring the curriculum’s website and finding information such as the hazards in San Diego County on their iPads.

Shearer said students are reading about natural disasters in an effort to better understand them and apply their knowledge to other things they’re learning about such as mapping and shake tables. Safety and preparedness procedures are also woven into each unit.

The curriculum is flexible so teachers can bring in their own levels of expertise, as well as resources available to them. At Benchley-Weinberger, a communications magnet, students have a school newspaper and a television station to get the word out to other students.

Crawford said it is her hope that other teachers and school districts will become interested in the program and sign up as well. The first 1,500 San Diego teachers who adopt the curriculum will receive a crank-powered emergency radio/flashlight purchased through donations from Target and AT&T for their classroom’s emergency kit.

Shearer said so far about 90 teachers from the San Diego Unified School District have attended training and requested materials.

“I would say the reaction from the teachers who’ve seen it so far has been very positive,” said Shearer. “They liked that it was all-inclusive, they don’t need to go to outside resources unless they want to, and the technology has been built into the instruction as well.”

As one of the first teachers in the district to implement it, Armstrong said she promptly signed up for the free materials after attending a specialized district training to go over the main themes in the curriculum. What was impressed onto her after the training was that it was all information important for her children to know. Since starting it, she has also found the curriculum to be well-planned and easy to use in the classroom. Teachers can order copies of the curriculum at no charge here.

Yvette Urrea Moe is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact