Back-to-school brought an extra burst of joy, relief and other emotions to students and teachers in Houston Monday, as Texas’ largest school district was able to finally start class since Harvey flooded much of the city in August.
At Codwell Elementary, the school’s secretary Demetria Cain stood by the bus drop-off, where she estimated she gave out some 200 hugs to students.
“To see them come in and have smiles on their faces, and their parents have smiles on their faces — not knowing what they’ve been through — we just want to be positive, to keep them positive as well,” Cain said.
One of those students, Makinze Jollivett, 10, reported she was “on fleek.”
“I’m feeling good today because this is the first day of school and I can’t wait to meet my friends. I was feeling great when the rain started to stop and then the sun came out,” says the new fifth-grader.
More Houston schools opened Monday than previously expected — more than 250 out of about 280 total. But several dozen campuses remain closed because crews are still repairing them. The Houston district has planned rolling start dates through Sept. 25.
At least nine of the unopened campuses were so badly damaged that the district is finding them new locations — maybe even doubling them up with another school.
On the first day back, Superintendent Richard Carranza crisscrossed the district and emphasized flexibility.
“This is going to be a year of not only incredible academic achievement, but it’s going to be a year of healing,” Carranza said.
For many students and teachers, Harvey created a rough start to the academic year.
Dynasty Stephenson, 16, grew frustrated as she waited for her delayed bus to start her junior year at Lamar High School.
The last two weeks, while school was canceled, have been anything but a vacation, says Dynasty. Her family had two feet of water in their home, so Stephenson said she’s been washing clothes, pulling up carpet and cleaning walls.
“The house stunk, it was terrible,” she says. “I’ve been working to get my house back normal. And now it’s time for school all the stresses, all the tests, all the assignments.”
One bright spot: “I don’t have to sit in the house anymore and think about everything else. I get to get out of the house, finally.”
About 270 of Houston’s teachers weren’t able to make it back to class Monday because they are still recovering from Harvey’s aftermath themselves, says Carranza. But he expects they’ll all be able to return by Sept. 25.
For those educators that did make it to class, back-to-school felt like a major accomplishment.
“It was almost like a victory march,” says Raquel Sosa-Gonzalez, principal at Bruce Elementary. After the flood, Sosa-Gonzalez checked on the apartment complex just east of downtown, where many of her students live.
When she found it nearly abandoned, she searched for them at one of the city’s mega-shelters in the downtown convention center. There, she found many of her students and proceeded to bring them supplies and help care for them.
“For us, it’s getting the students back to a sense of normalcy, and if there’s anything normal and something structured that they understand, it’s school,” she says. “For us to provide that for them, a lot of happy, smiling, shiny faces today, it just brings joy to all of us here to welcome them back.”
One of her elementary students, Angel Samuels, 8, couldn’t wait.
“I was thinking about it all night. I could not go to sleep,” she says. “I was just waiting to go to school. I was like, ‘Why did Harvey have to come? We got to go to school and learn!’ ”