My World's on Fire

By Colleen Hagerty

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My World's on Fire
In the know
By Colleen Hagerty • Issue #104 • View online
Thanks for reading My World’s on Fire, a newsletter about disasters from journalist Colleen Hagerty. Let’s make this a regular thing—subscribe for disaster deep-dives, Q&As, and context in your inbox on Thursday evenings.

Four years ago, I covered a wave of teacher strikes that were breaking out across the country, largely in response to low salaries and poor working conditions. With admin permission, I joined a number of the Facebook groups teachers were using to plan their actions in states including West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and California. In the years since, some of the groups have fallen silent or shut down. But others have continued to grow long after the strikes ended, including the “Kentucky Teachers in the Know.”
Special education teacher Allison Slone started the group in 2017 as a space to connect with her “teacher friends.” As it became a hub for organizing, it swelled to more than 20,000 members. When the pandemic shuttered schools in March 2020, I noticed an uptick in activity in the group, and I reached out to Slone and some of the other teachers that were regularly posting to chat about the role the group was playing as they adjusted to virtual classrooms (you can read my article about that on Insider).
When a tornado tore through Kentucky late last year, the group came together to raise funds, collecting more than $20,000. With that money, they were able to give every impacted faculty member—teachers, bus drivers, administrators—gift cards for $200.
Late last week, I noticed an influx of posts from the group in my feed once again. This time, it was in relation to the historic flooding in Eastern Kentucky, which has killed at least 37 people, destroyed scores of buildings, and now has left thousands stranded without power and safe drinking water during extreme heat conditions. 
As Slone explained in an emotional post in the Facebook group, this event hit close to home—she grew up in one of the impacted areas. Some of her loved ones were affected; schools she attended as a child were devastated, just days before students were set to return to their classrooms after the summer break.
Others began posting about the disaster in the group, as well. At first, Slone says it was a lot of communicating the news and trying to connect people—"because teachers touch everyone in a county or a district,“ as Slone explained. Then, her stepmother told her about a teacher in Knott County who "lost everything,” and Slone decided to share that woman’s story in the group.
“Within, I don’t know, two or three hours, I’d say she had over $500 in her accounts, and probably more than that by now,” Slone told me by phone on Wednesday. “That’s not a lot when you’ve lost everything, but in the meantime, it might buy you some clean clothes and underwear, and it’s something to eat.”
While there are a number of groups doing incredible work to help flood survivors in Kentucky, the reason I wanted to highlight Kentucky Teachers In the Know is because it’s not a disaster-focused or typical mutual aid organization—it’s just a Facebook group that has earned trust over time and is choosing to utilize that to support neighbors in need. As experts like seismologist Lucy Jones have said, community connections like this are an essential element of preparedness and play an important role in how an area is able to recover from a disaster in the long-term, especially after the initial outside waves of support have left.
Slone and another Facebook group administrator are currently working on putting together a vetted document of schools and faculty in need that they’ll post in the group, as well as on its public Facebook Page. Right now, they’re only soliciting cash donations and urging people who want to donate items like books or other classroom materials to hold that thought for the months to come. 
“There’s just no place for that stuff right now to be stored,” she said. 
But: “In a few months, when they get those schools back on their feet and get started, whether they can clean it or they have to rebuild and start over, they will definitely need it.”
For more on important considerations around disaster donations, I highly recommend this thread from Dr. Samantha Montano. And for more ways to help residents in Kentucky, check out Southerly.
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