I teach in Houston. I'm worried for my students.
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I’m sitting in a bedroom in my friend’s house in southwest Houston, terrified for my city. The rain has poured down nonstop since Friday. I’m lucky to be safe and dry, but I worry for the thousands of others who are not as fortunate — particularly many of my students.
I teach United States history to 11th graders at a charter school, KIPP Houston High School, which has 945 students. Most of them live in areas that are prone to flooding, and the principal is hard at work getting donations for those in need.
One of my students was being evacuated when I called to check up on her. I can only imagine what she and other kids are going through right now.
More than 160 public school districts and 30 charter schools in Texas have been closed. School was supposed to start next Tuesday, but the storm has put that in question. “I don’t think we know for sure when everybody will be back,” a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency said on Tuesday.
We should be making lesson plans and study schedules. Now we’re worried about students who don’t have shelter or enough food.
My phone has been buzzing for days with alerts about tornadoes and flash floods. My friends and I text one another images of the roads we once drove on that are now under water or have collapsed. Heartbreaking photos of friends and students who need to be rescued are circulating on Facebook and Instagram.
My experience of the storm started when I came home on Thursday from work, where I’d been preparing for the coming school year. A carefully folded letter from my apartment complex’s managers had been slipped into the gate to my patio:
“We are asking you to begin thinking about preparations,” it read.
My stomach dropped.
“If an evacuation order is given by government officials, we encourage you to follow their recommendations as we will,” the letter went on. “As a result, our team members are unable to access the community, so you will need to be prepared to go several days without assistance of our management/maintenance team.”
I felt a rush of feelings, but particularly residual trauma from the tornadoes and the storms I had already endured back home in Alabama, especially Hurricanes Katrina and Ike.
I steeled myself and immediately went to gather supplies. I knew the Walmart on Westheimer would be packed, so I headed for the Family Dollar store on Dairy Ashford Road. All of the shopping carts were gone, so I got a bucket from the cleaning section.
There was fear and determination in the air. People hurried through the aisles to get the things they most needed. They exchanged stories about surviving storms like this before. The line to check out grew with every passing moment as I made my way from one section to the next.
I was baffled by the sight of people buying charcoal and barbecue grills until I heard one woman say to another, “Girl, if the lights go out, I can still try and cook for my kids.” I bought the second-to-last grill left on the shelf. We were all making a way out of no way.
Later that night, the school district sent out a notice that schools would be closed Friday. I still felt safe enough in my split-level apartment in the Alief area, in West Houston, since a colleague who had lived there for about six years was also staying. We could at least keep each other from going stir-crazy.
But when I took out my trash Friday morning, my colleague was packing up her car to head to her brother’s house in North Houston.
With that, my safety net was gone. I was terrified and I felt trapped. My ground-floor patio had already flooded, so I started making phone calls to take people up on their offers to stay with them. And I wasn’t alone. I had a pregnant houseguest who’d also recently gotten a teaching job in Houston. She’s staying with me until she can move her family from Alabama. I needed a place where we could both be safe, but many of the people I called said they couldn’t take the two of us.
On Friday afternoon, I finally got a yes from a friend in Missouri City, just southwest of Houston. We’ve been here in her two-bedroom apartment since then.
All the while, I’ve been reaching out to my students to make sure they’re all right. Their lives matter to me. I hope they will all be able to recover from this. Our students’ safety is paramount, but the state must get the kids back in school as soon as possible.
Teachers in Houston are willing to do just about anything to support their education. We’ll call, Google chat or Skype students if that’s what it takes to have class. We’ll help to build a makeshift school so our students can continue to learn.
Meanwhile, it just keeps raining.