It’s been over three months, but the effects of Hurricane Harvey are still being felt in Houston, Tex., and the surrounding areas.
The staff and students at Juan Seguin Elementary School in Richmond, Tex., started off their 2017/18 school year on August 22 and were excited to go back to school. But after just three days of school, Hurricane Harvey hit and changed everything.
“We were shut down for two full weeks,” first grade teacher Lisa Moeller said. During that time, the teachers and staff were allowed back in the school for a small window of time to collect anything salvageable from their classrooms. The school was filled with eight inches of water, and mold was beginning to grow. Moeller was able to save the picture books that were up on a shelf, but other classrooms weren’t so lucky. “Everything near the floor was ruined,” she said.
The nearly 700 students of Juan Seguin had to be split up and sent to other schools in the area. Kindergarten through second grade went to James Patterson Elementary, a brand new school that had just opened that fall. Grades three to five were displaced to Crockett Middle School. Originally, there was hope that Juan Seguin would reopen by Christmas of this year, but there was just too much damage. The students and staff will remain in their makeshift classrooms at the other schools for the remainder of the school year. They will be able to go back to Juan Seguin next August when the school year begins.
“The kids did great with the change,” Moeller commented. With the school year just getting started, being moved to a new location wasn’t as big of a deal as it would have been if it was later in the year and the students were more established. The hard part for the teachers and staff was not knowing which of their students had also been displaced by the flooding.
When the students arrived at their temporary schools, the teachers sat them down to discuss everything they’d experienced with the hurricane and explained that they would not be able to return to Juan Seguin right away. “We were just thankful that James Patterson Elementary could help,” Moeller expressed. “They have had to share their brand new school with all of us and have done so with amazing generosity and attitudes!”
They now had the space at their new temporary schools, but still needed a lot of classroom supplies to continue giving the students of Juan Seguin the education they deserved.
A teacher from Florida saw the need across the many schools that Hurricane Harvey had affected and set up an “Adopt a Classroom” project to match donors with classrooms that had been devastated by the hurricane. Preston resident Tracy Raaen filled out a form to help and was given Moeller’s information. Moeller sent her a list of her classroom’s needs, and Raaen got to work.
Raaen put out a social media post letting her friends know that they could drop off donations at her house. What happened next completely blew her away. “After sharing a simple post on social media, within about 15 minutes we had six communities that had drop off sites,” she said. “People were so willing to help and open their homes and businesses for others to drop school supplies off.” The project turned into a community effort with a whole team of people pitching in to help and donations coming from as far as Iowa, Wis., and even Utah. A few of the key players in the efforts were Mary Beth Ostrom, Carol Solberg, and Ilene Edwards. YouTuber Collin Kartchner from Utah even got involved after Ostrom tagged him on a social media post she shared about the project.
Donations started coming in on Labor Day weekend and continued to do so until the end of October. By the time it was all said and done, 73 boxes of school supplies had been sent to Moeller’s class in Texas. They included everything from student supplies such as notebooks, crayons, pencils, glue, folders, storybooks, backpacks, to teacher supplies such as math games and manipulatives, crafts for projects, desk organizers, and much more.
“We’ve just been overwhelmed with donations,” Moeller expressed. “We’ve all made the best of a tough situation, and ya’ll have played a big part in that.” Enough donations arrived that she was able to share some of the supplies with other classes from Juan Seguin as well. “We were able to put boxes in an area where all could access your donations,” she said. “I was overwhelmed by all the generosity and strangers loving on strangers.”
Raaen feels that the impact of the project went even further than she anticipated. Not only did Moeller’s first grade class benefit, but many who donated did as well in a different way. “It has taught our three children about how blessed we are and the importance of giving back to others. People were so generous,” Raaen said. “It was heartwarming to see the support that was given to this project.”