On a sweltering Friday afternoon in late August a group of students from The Woodlands High School were not in class as planned but instead were helping a stranger remove the flood-ravaged contents from her home in the Houston suburbs.
The retired school teacher from the Conroe Independent School District had sweat and drywall dust on her face as she sorted items quickly into three piles for the boys to move: a few things not damaged by the five feet of water which flooded her home were taken to a bedroom; other items she hoped to salvage were put on the front lawn to dry out; and most things were toted to the soggy mountain of curbside trash which was beginning to reek.
When finished, the students asked her if she needed anything else before they moved on to help the next homeowner in need and she shook her head no, sweetly thanked them and said: "I just want my life back."
Storm of The Century
This scene was being played out in neighborhood after neighborhood in Houston area after slow-moving Hurricane Harvey left the area inundated with enough water to fill Lake Michigan and swollen rivers created a 500-year flooding event.
The scope of this natural disaster hit home in its numbers:
30,000 people at one point were forced to temporary shelters, according to the American Red Cross
735,000 individuals had applied to FEMA for assistance
Tex. Gov. Greg Abbott estimated that $125 billion in aid would be needed to rebuild
In Houston's Harris County, nearly 100,000 homes sustained some sort of damage from flooding and more than 15,000 homes had major damage or were destroyed, according to the Houston Business Journal.
The storm and flooding hit the Houston area, much like Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans 12 years earlier, when parents and students were celebrating or getting ready for the first week of school.
Houstonians Bands Together
The impact was immediate with 51 school districts postponing the start of classes, directly affecting one million students. Other school districts, already back in sessions experienced delays, some for as many as six school days. The state has already granted school districts waivers so lost days won't be made up.
Fears of Harvey turning into another Katrina were thankfully not realized in loss of life -- less than 100 deaths attributed to the storm vs. 1,833 in Katrina. Other factors made the aftermath of Harvey different than Katrina with the Houston area never reaching the level of chaos experienced in New Orleans. In fact, Houston pulled together with civilian boat rescues, donation drives and massive clean-up efforts. Houston Texans all-pro football player J.J. Watt alone, helped raise more than $37 million dollars for flood victims.
Houston area schools became the focal point of harvey recovery relief efforts turning into shelters, donation drop-off points and rally centers for volunteers. In New Orleans, by contrast, the public schools were so damaged that most buildings never reopened, according to the Brookings Institution.
“I can’t stress enough how critical it is that kids not lose out on their schooling and how important it is that they get back to school,” University of Vermont sociology professor Alice Fothergill told the Huffington Post.
The Houston Independent School District (HISD), the largest school system in Texas and the nation's seventh largest with 283 schools and more than 210,000 students, was quick to acknowledge that they were going to apply lessons learned from Katrina.
"During Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans and the surrounding school districts took six months to open their schools. Hurricane Harvey was just as destructive, and we're attempting to open a much larger school district in two weeks," said HISD Superintendent Richard Carranza a few days before the Sept. 11 delayed opening day for his district.
Carranza was able to open 250 of 280 schools by Sept. 11 and only nine schools are damaged enough that students are being moved to new locations for the entire year.
“We have challenges ahead of us, but we’re ready to rebuild,” said Carranza. “We are ready to get back to educating our kids, and get them close to some sense of normalcy.”
Addressing the emotional and physical needs of its students, HISD gave all its teachers trauma and crisis training prior to the delayed opening day. The school district also got waivers to offer up to three free hot meals to students.
“This waiver will give our families one less concern as they begin the process of restoring their lives. It will also provide a sense of normalcy by allowing students to have access to up to three nutritious meals each and every school day.” said Carranza.
Micah is the Director of Curriculum & Technology. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in British Literature, from the University of North Texas and a Master of Arts in Teaching, from Louisiana College. In his previous career, Micah served for 14 years as a banker and bank manager. For the majority of this period, Micah managed the Downtown Fort Worth location of Frost Bank.
In 2005, Micah finally surrendered to his true calling to be an educator. After a brief, but fulfilling term teaching high school English at Flower Mound High School in Lewisville ISD, Micah went to work for the family business, training teachers.
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