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Communities Rally Around Flood-Impacted Schools in Eastern Kentucky

By Stephanie Toman

February 15, 2023

When historic flooding tore through Eastern Kentucky last July, the impacts were devastating. Homes, schools, businesses, and vital infrastructures were washed away in the floodwaters, leaving thousands stranded. As communities rallied together to care for each other, rebuild, and repair what they could, our TFA Appalachia team rolled up their collective sleeves to muck houses and sort donations across our Eastern Kentucky partner counties. As other local organizations focused on basic needs, such as food and housing, TFA Appalachia quickly turned our attention to local schools. Even before the flooding, students were still reeling from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, where the disruptions to learning and everyday life had devastating effects on student wellbeing and their academic performance. The 2022 – 2023 school year should have been the first in three years to have some degree of normalcy, with high hopes for gaining back some of the academic ground that had been lost in previous years. However, as floodwaters receded, teachers and administrators returned to school buildings caked in mud and beloved classroom libraries and carefully curated supplies that were completely destroyed.

Just a few weeks before the school year was set to start, our school partners across the region set aside class rosters and curriculum plans and began mucking out their buildings. Michael Millan, a first-year corps member who had recently relocated to the region, was looking forward to his first year as a social studies teacher at Knott County Central High School. And while he had pictured spending his August preparing his classroom and finetuning his lesson plans, he instead turned to his personal network back home in Florida to assist in collecting supplies for his new school community to replace what had been lost in the flood. Additionally, rising second-year corps member, Jasmine Cowen, devoted her time to working tirelessly in her school and neighboring communities to help sign up impacted individuals for relief funds from the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky, one of our valued partners. While some schools were spared significant damage, many of our treasured Eastern Kentucky schools were directly in the path of the flood and had to be completely gutted to mitigate against water damage.

Knowing that the road to recovery would be long, and that there would be significant need at the individual school level to replace everything from pencils to projectors, we launched a grassroots giving campaign in August to pool donations for our schools most in need of supplemental support. We worked directly with impacted districts to identify what they needed most to best support students and teachers in the recovery efforts. During the two-week funding campaign, over 30 individuals donated a total of $4,000 which went directly towards providing supplies to Letcher County, Knott County, and Perry County schools. We purchased and delivered hundreds of student white boards, over a dozen desktop laminators and laminating pouches, several easel pads of chart paper, multiple Keurigs, and almost a dozen rolls of bulletin board paper, which were distributed by the districts to the classrooms most in need.

And while the start of school was pushed back to accommodate recovery efforts, in the months since the flood we have worked to support our corps member and alumni teachers to be as impactful as possible. We are proud to have a group of 36 corps member and alumni teachers serving in the region and are moved—as always—by the profound resilience and collaboration that makes our Appalachian communities so powerful.