Parent Nhoui Jimenez kisses her daughter Isabella as she prepares to start her first day back at Bammel Elementary. The Jimenez family had eight feet of water in their house during Harvey’s torrential rainfall.
More than two weeks after Hurricane Harvey inundated the greater Houston region causing devastating losses, thousands of Spring ISD students returned to school on Monday, welcomed by familiar faces and routines.
“My hope is that the return to school will help us all move forward toward recovery and healing,” said Dr. Rodney Watson. “We understand that many Spring ISD families are dealing with difficult and emotional challenges because of the storm, and we’re committed to doing all we can to help.”
The district’s nearly 5,600 employees returned to work last Thursday to prepare for the arrival of students, many of whose families lost homes, cars and personal belongings in the storm. Teachers and administrators were not only ready to meet students with donations of clothing and school supplies if needed, but also with extra counseling support.
“We’re using a process of healing known as Restorative Circles, which encourages participants to share emotional challenges and to reach out to one another for understanding and support,” said Dr. Lupita Hinojosa, chief of school leadership and support. “Many of our staff members also saw catastrophic losses so this will also support their recovery too.”
To help ease the transition back into the classroom, the district is providing free lunch to all students, in addition to the free breakfast already available, through Sept. 29. Knowing that many families lost clothing, schools with dress codes have relaxed their requirements for the immediate future.
Campus staff worked tirelessly to ready classrooms for their students, even while juggling the demands of personal lives upended by the storm.
At Bammel Elementary School on Monday, Principal Berky Hernandez-Owolabi greeted returning students at the school’s door. She got several inches of water in her own house and gave hugs to many of her students who were in the same condition at their own homes.
“It’s a great feeling to see our students returning. I have to be strong so that my staff and students can be strong too, “ she said. “If they see me smile, then they can smile and feel safe. That’s important.”
Parent Nhoui Jimenez was grateful to be bringing her children back to school and kissed them goodbye at the door.
“We are getting back to normal, and it’s good to be getting back to normal,” she said. With her Westador home flooded by eight feet of water, her family is staying at her brother’s home. She said there are many families who are worse off than hers.
The principal spoke to her and other parents about the availability of school supplies at the campus to help affected families.
Lost school supplies were also a concern for Dora Saldivar, a Twin Creeks Middle School parent who said her family lost everything. “My entire neighborhood was completely under water. No one escaped from the flooding,” said Saldivar. So she sent her son to school today with two spiral notebooks and words to live by.
“I told him those two spirals do not dictate his future. The future is what we carry inside – the will to move forward. Today you only have those two spirals. Tomorrow you may have all your school supplies. We never know where a helping hand may come from,” she said.
At Spring High School, which was temporarily converted into a shelter after the storm, students shared stories and reflections about the storm, which devastated many of their classmates.
“You see some people aren’t the same because of how they were affected,” said Jordan Taylor, a Spring High School senior. “Attitudes are different. But it’s good to be back.”
Another senior, Ivette Zapata, said the school dance team all came together to donate a Home Depot gift card to their coach, whose house flooded. The coach had just bought the house a few months ago.
“It’s always good to be grateful for what you have because you never know what can happen,” Taylor said.
Principal Diaka Melendez said she was happy to see the students back and was impressed by how many of them stepped up after the storm to help.
“Our kids pretty much ran the shelter here at Spring High School,” she said. “Everyone has a story from this storm, and we have amazing students and an amazing community that really pulled together. I hope we can keep that momentum.”