Chavi Pruitt leads third graders in a group discussion on their first day back.
HOUSTON – Sept. 11, 2017 – The neighborhoods surrounding Ponderosa Elementary School were especially hard-hit with flooding from Harvey. After one of the best school starts ever, just two weeks earlier, Harvey’s impact on her school’s community was particularly devastating to Principal Shanna Swearingen.
“We started school Aug. 17 on such a high note,” Swearingen said. “But if anything, this has brought our teachers and staff even closer together. We have one shared passion: we are all working for our kids,” she said.
As soon as they could after the storm stopped, the Ponderosa leadership team and staff began calling parents, wading through water to get to homes and using social media to check on their families and connect them with resources. They worked hard to collect clothing, food and other necessities to help those who were in need.
Staying connected was important as they continued to reach out to their families while the district prepared to reopen. On Monday, they were in front of the school, greeting families and helping students out of their cars and on their way back to school.
Although the first step to normalcy was getting the students back in school, Swearingen and her team know there is still more healing to be done in the community and in the classroom.
Ponderosa teachers began the day using a method called Restorative Circles to help students process what had happened and help them get back into the routine of learning.
Third-grade teacher Chavi Pruitt began with an exercise that helped her students remember a book they had read together “before we had this thing happen that we weren’t expecting.” she said. She then prepared them for a writing assignment designed to help them think about what they experienced during the two weeks they were out of school and at the same time, would let school staff know what the students need to help them move on.
They got to choose one subject to write about from the following five topics:
- What did you see or do personally that made you proud of your community?
- Write a note or letter to someone who helped your family.
- What did you experience that caused you concern?
- Do you have family or a friend you are worried about and what do they need?
- A year from now, when you think about Hurricane Harvey, what will you remember the most?
Pruitt was encouraged by the fact that no student raised their hand when she asked who would be choosing topic number four. She hopes that is a sign that they are seeing the positive and not the negative side of the experience.
“The kids are a little quiet today, but they have smiles on their faces; I think this is what they needed,” said Swearingen. “It feels like a void has been filled.”