What happens when kids’ school is the playground of a deadly wildfire?
Posted On July 14, 2021
In this June 23, 2018, photo, children sit on the deck of a boat in Mayport, Fla.
(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) The fires in May 2016 and May 2017, which destroyed homes and caused an estimated $1 billion in damage, have been blamed for an increase in the number of school-aged children attending Mayport Ellementary Coastal Science Academy.
But experts say the real issue is a change in the school’s curriculum that began as early as last year.
The Academy was created to provide a hands-on, hands-off learning experience, said MECSA president John Dufresne.
“We are looking to have the students come in on a daily basis and learn about the natural world, the ocean, and to be involved in environmental education.”
But the changes in the curriculum have made some parents worried about their kids.
The school was created in 2018 after the state’s Board of Education made the decision to close Mayport for the first time in 25 years.
But Dufrede said the new curriculum is changing in other ways, like removing some classes that were part of the previous curriculum and reclassifying them.
“It’s very much a different curriculum now,” Dufre said.
“The focus is going to be on environmental education and the environment itself.”
Some parents, like Mayport resident Jodie Simeon, have voiced concerns about their child going to Mayport to learn about sea life and how the ocean affects their lives.
“I feel bad for my kids,” Simeons said.
She said her kids are used to being outdoors and that they were always exposed to the outdoors.
“When we went to the park, they were not allowed,” she said.
But Mayport’s school is not the only one to see the changes to the curriculum.
Schools in Miami-Dade County, Broward and Palm Beach County are also being changed.
For example, the Mayport School Board will now be working with the local School District to create a new curriculum that is focused on “creating a more integrated learning experience for students,” said school board member Jim Brown.
The new curriculum will include more hands-based instruction, which is used to teach students how to navigate the environment, according to Brown.
“There is a lot of talk in the community about this, but we need to do it,” Brown said.
Mayport Mayor Tom Hagan, however, said there are no plans to change the curriculum at the Mayports.
“Mayport is a great school,” he said.
The city of Miami-dade, which has also closed its schools, is trying to create more hands on, hands off learning, but said there is not a plan to change curriculum.
“Our goal is to be a more hands off environment,” said Mayor Jose Rodriguez.
Rodriguez also said he is open to a partnership with the city of Palm Beach to change classrooms at the schools in the coming months.
“That’s our goal,” he added.
What happens if kids’ schools are the playground for a deadly fire?
Experts say the changes are causing parents to question their kids’ ability to do the right thing.
“Parents are saying, ‘My child can’t do this.
How can they do this?'” said Elizabeth Pinto, a clinical psychologist and executive director of the National Center for Safe School Practices.
She explained that if kids are doing a lot, that means they are doing it well, but if they aren’t doing that well, they are putting themselves in danger.
“A lot of times, kids are just not getting the attention they need to be successful in the classroom,” Pinto said.
Experts are also concerned that parents are allowing their kids to get distracted.
“Sometimes when kids are distracted, they forget about the importance of what they’re doing, which can be the most critical part,” said Dr. James Pinto.
“If kids are not doing the work, they’re not getting what they need from their day,” he explained.
What’s the next step?
“The first step is to work with the parents to make sure they understand what’s going on,” said Pinto and said parents should be allowed to speak with a counselor to discuss how to best protect their kids from harm.
But Pinto is not so sure that will happen soon.
“Some parents don’t want to get involved,” she added.
“They are very concerned and they don’t feel like they’re getting their children involved.”