As Florida begins the long path to recovery from Hurricane Irma, school districts in the hurricane’s path can learn from the actions of Houston area school districts that are still reeling from the impacts of Hurricane Harvey.
With school districts in and around Houston transitioning from reaction to relief, education leaders are positioning their schools as hubs on the long road to recovery.
Located just north of Houston, Spring ISD felt the full force of Harvey—and district leaders mobilized quickly to respond to the needs of employees, students, and families.
While many of the district’s facilities avoided major flood damage, thanks to their positions on higher ground, several residential neighborhoods and apartment complexes in the community were not so lucky. As a result, many displaced families faced the prospect of starting a new school year while starting over. Many of Spring ISD’s employees who live in the Houston metro area are also working to recover from one of the worst storms to hit the region in recent memory.
“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.”
Harvey hadn’t even fully moved out when Dunne-Oldfield and her team started gathering information about how they could help. The Spring ISD Education Foundation established a Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund and the district launched a specialized page on Elevate, powered by Let’s Talk! from K12 Insight, where community members could apply for recovery grants. (K12 Insight produces TrustED).
By noon on Sept. 2, the district had received 276 requests for help. About one-third of the submissions fell into what the district established as Group 1, catastrophic need.
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“A lot of the requests are young teachers, first-year teachers, who don’t have a lot of money in the bank,” Dunne-Oldfield says. “Some are parents and staff members who are homeowners and have experienced complete devastation.”
The relief fund is still open, with the district expecting to hit $30,000 by the end of Friday. Dunne-Oldfield says the ultimate goal is $50,000 in relief grants.
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.”
It also gives community members who weren’t as impacted a chance to directly help their neighbors, their child’s teachers, or their friends.
The road ahead
Fundraising is only the beginning. The district’s family and community engagement team has been working with the district’s partners to provide additional help, such as by partnering with Walmart to offer school supplies to returning students.
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.”
Was your district affected by Hurricane Harvey? With Irma bearing down on the southeast United States this weekend, are you organizing relief efforts in your community? Share your stories in the comments.