As Hurricane Irma aimed for South Florida, two alumni were pressed into duty to open their schools for about 3,000 people in need of shelter.
With almost 40 shelters open and nearing capacity, Miami-Dade County decided to open additional shelters as more people sought refuge from a potential direct hit from the Category 5 storm with winds exceeding 150 miles per hour.
In short order, Bianca Calzadilla and John Galardi sprang into action, supported by custodial staff, volunteer teachers, national guardsmen and police as they readied their schools to house those who didn’t have a safer place to be.
“It was automatic, we knew what had to happen,” said Calzadilla, principal of Shenandoah Middle School in Miami. “There was no question what needed to be done. There was no question we needed to be there.”
In Homestead, Galardi’s South Dade Middle School sheltered 2,500 people. The first night, they dined on pizza and chicken – what would have been his students’ lunch.
“This community was hard hit during hurricane Andrew 25 years ago and I know that upped the anxiety for this storm,” Galardi said. “I love this community, and I didn’t want people to be in a scenario where they were in a house or a mobile home that was unsafe.”
Then a week later, they had to make sure their schools were ready for their students to return. Calzadilla and Galardi heaped praise on custodial staff who sanitized hallways, rest rooms and cafeterias.
Both principals welcomed their students and teachers back on Monday and recognized that while the storm may have passed, its effects linger.
“As human beings we’re resilient, we support each other during traumatic events,” Calzadilla said. “We all had something we went through this storm that was a reminder of Andrew. Some of us may not have power back, some are dealing tree debris. We still need to support each other.”