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After Harvey, Thousands of Students, Teachers Head Back to School in Houston

HISD Superintendent Richard Carranza toured half a dozen campuses for back-to-school, including serving breakfast for second graders at Codwell Elementary.

 

 

On Monday morning, Demetria Cain stood at the entrance of Codwell Elementary and gave cheery shout-outs to students and their parents. She estimates she gave at least 200 hugs on back-to-school, which felt different for many students and teachers recovering from Harvey’s floodwaters.

“Especially with everything that’s going on, to have the students back in school to have a different environment, to be here with their friends, it helps,” Cain said. “To see them come in and have smiles on their faces and their parents have smiles on their faces, not knowing what they’ve been through, we just want to be positive, to keep them positive as well.”

More than 250 schools in Houston welcomed back thousands of students and teachers Monday, as the state’s largest school district finally kicked off the school year.

Harvey’s floodwaters and damage caused a two week delay, but Superintendent Richard Carranza said they were able to open more schools Monday than originally planned. Some schools are still closed, and rolling start dates will continue through Sept. 25, for now. Carranza said that crews are moving quickly and they’re trying to beat that date.

At a press conference in an elementary school library, Mayor Sylvester Turner praised the district’s work. And he pledged to support Houston schools as they not only recover from Harvey, but also face the tough challenge to improve at least 10 chronically failing schools, or face a state-appointed board of managers.

In the meantime, Carranza urged families who are displaced to attend whichever school they can access, adding that attendance rules will be more flexible during this recovery period.

“You know, like the old song, ‘Love the one you’re with?’ Go with the school you’re near, OK?” Carranza said. “We want you in a school because once you’re in school, you’re going to get a supportive environment, you’re going to get three meals, you’re going to get a whole support system.”

Carranza said that about 270 teachers weren’t able to report back because they’re still recovering from Harvey themselves, but he expects they’ll all be back in two weeks. 

A couple dozen schools are scheduled to open Tuesday, and more next Monday. Teachers for those campuses are scheduled to attend training in how to deal with crisis and trauma in the classroom until they start.

Carranza said that nine schools are still planned to open in new locations — perhaps vacant buildings or doubled-up on other campuses – on Sept. 25.

For educators, getting back to school also felt different this year.

“It was almost like a victory march to know that our families were displaced in different areas. And just to make sure that we knew where they were to welcome them back,” said Raquel Sosa-Gonzalez, principal at Bruce Elementary. During the two-delay because of Harvey, Sosa-Gonzalez searched for students at the city’s mega-shelter in the George R. Brown Convention Center and after she found them, brought them supplies and gave some informal classes.

“And so it was almost like we did it. We made it. We are here, the students are here, we’re ready to learn:”

 

 

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Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for Houston Public Media, including K-12 and higher education. Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and contributed to South Florida’s NPR affiliate. Her work has also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and Clarín in Argentina. Laura has won awards for...

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