Recent high school graduate Anh-Minh Nguyen’s senior year didn’t go as he expected. While he and his classmates were worrying about applying to colleges, some of their teachers were dealing with flooded homes, lost cars and illnesses after the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey.
Nguyen said those obstacles made it feel like Harvey was hindering him and his classmates from reaching their full potential. But when he was having trouble with his application to Harvard, his teachers did everything they could to help him, even though they were dealing with many problems of their own.
The resilience of teachers and students in the face of one of the worst natural disasters in the state’s history was a theme of The Texas Tribune’s conversation on Hurricane Harvey’s impact on public education. Here are some of the takeaways from the discussion with Nguyen, who graduated from Alief ISD's Early College High School in May; Rhonda Howard, a social worker at Houston ISD's T.H. Rogers School; Jennifer Mann, principal at Wharton ISD's Wharton Elementary School; and Tiffany Robinson, secondary science instructional specialist at Alief ISD's Elsik Ninth Grade Center.
Schools found it hard to make up for lost time in the classroom.
After losing 11 days of instruction to Harvey, Robinson and her colleagues at Elsik Ninth Grade Center had to reevaluate whether they could spare the time for additional educational experiences like field trips and project-based learning activities.
“We hated having to do that because when you do extra activities like that the kids grasp the concept so much more in depth to where you can actually achieve mastery learning,” Robinson said.
Robinson’s school used after-school tutorials to help students meet the academic readiness standards required of them, but participation wasn’t that great, she said. According to Robinson, some parents were more reluctant to let their children stay for after-school instruction this year because Harvey spread families thin, requiring students to get jobs or take care of their siblings.
Schools feel they need more funding to properly address Harvey’s effects.
Some students at Wharton Elementary School still haven’t found a place to live after their homes were destroyed, and long commutes to school are causing attendance numbers to fall, Mann said.
Outside of those barriers, the school wants to address the social and emotional health of its students. The problem is that the school needs additional funding from the state to bring in more social workers and counseling programs, Mann said. She applied to the state for funding for this purpose and was able to secure a social worker, but didn’t receive the funding until April.
“We really aren’t getting much help from the state,” Mann said.
Dealing with the fallout of Harvey was a challenge for graduating seniors.
Nguyen said he and his classmates already had a lot on their minds, like applying to colleges and managing their extracurricular activities, and knowing many of their teachers were affected by Harvey made navigating senior year more difficult.
In the absence of some of his mentors who had to take time off or were preoccupied by the fallout of the storm, Nguyen took on new responsibilities at school. Some extracurricular programs weren’t the same as they were before the storm, he said, but teachers did everything they could to allow students to continue them.
“I was truly appreciative of what they were doing for me and many of my other classmates as well, even though the storm took a huge toll on their personal lives and their work lives were affected as well,” Nguyen said.