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Finding Relief after Hurricane Harvey: Rebuilding Schools and Communities

Tiffany Dunne-Oldfield, chief communications officer, Spring Independent School District, Texas

When the full impact of Hurricane Harvey bore down on the greater Houston metro area, leaders in Spring Independent School District, located just north of the city, used Let’s Talk! to begin responding to the needs of its community before the storm even ended.

Many of Spring ISD’s facilities avoided major flood damage, thanks to their positions on higher ground, but several residential neighborhoods and apartment complexes in the community were not so lucky. Many families and staff members were displaced and faced the prospect of starting a new school year while also starting over.

“When we talk about trying to get our schools up and running, you have to have your teachers there,” says Tiffany Dunne-Oldfield, Spring ISD’s chief communications officer. “It’s important for those kids who are coming back after having experienced trauma; they want to see those friendly faces.”

Dunne-Oldfield and her team knew that many of Spring ISD’s employees lived in the part of Houston most impacted by flood waters—and they knew they had to do something to help.

Spring ISD relief fundHarvey hadn’t even fully moved out when Dunne-Oldfield and her team started gathering information. While the Spring ISD Education Foundation established a Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, the district worked with K12 Insight to launch a specialized page of its online communications and customer service solution, elevate., which is powered by K12 Insight’s Let’s Talk!. From that page, community members could instantaneously apply for recovery grants.

“We wanted to get the information we needed [from our community], but we didn’t want it to be a bureaucratic process,” Dunne-Oldfield said. “We wanted it to be a couple of minutes, and they were done. Let’s Talk! let us do that.”

Sylvia Wood, communications officer, Spring Independent School District, Texas

By the deadline at noon on Sept. 2, the district had received 276 requests for help through elevate. About one-third of the submissions fell into what the district established as Group 1, catastrophic need. Only six days later, the district began distributing money to those in need.

“We had another 50 [requests] come in after the deadline,” Dunne-Oldfield said. “With Let’s Talk!, we’ll always have them and they’re time-stamped. So, as we get more money, we can take the ones that came in first after the deadline, review them, and note them for donations. We’ll do it until we run out of money.”

With so many requests for help, Dunne-Oldfield acknowledges that the money will only scratch the surface of what’s needed for most families. “But this can be that little bit that just gets someone through to that next paycheck; it can fill some little need that will help them feel more normal.”

The relief fund and specialized elevate. page also gives community members who weren’t as impacted a chance to directly help their neighbors, their child’s teachers, or their friends.

The district’s family and community engagement team is continuing to work with district partners to provide additional help, such as by partnering with Walmart to offer school supplies to returning students, providing free lunches in addition to free breakfasts, and relaxing dress codes at schools with such policies.

Whatever the coming months bring, local schools will continue to play a critical role for impacted families, says Sylvia Wood, Spring ISD’s communications officer:

“Schools are a first step toward the return to normalcy, and they’re a part of the recovery process.  Getting the kids back in the classroom and learning, and establishing that routine every day is going to help a lot of families. We have students who face challenges without the floods, and we play that role in their lives, providing that structure. That same thing is in play right now. Schools can become that safe place for students.”