Texas Teachers Scramble to Rebuild Classrooms Destroyed by Harvey
The average teacher spends $600 of her own money—and a lot of time—decorating her classroom every year. For teachers in areas affected by Hurricane Harvey, much of that work has been swept away by the storm.
The posters and decorations on the wall—ruined. A carefully curated classroom library—destroyed. Even classroom technology, like printers and computers—gone.
"Imagine finally getting to begin the school year after a three-week delay, and your classroom is bare," one teacher wrote on DonorsChoose. "You only have minimal supplies. As a student, that isn't very appealing or inviting. I want my classroom to feel like a place of learning, and I want my students to have everything that they need to be successful."
As schools in the Houston area begin to reopen, teachers are turning to crowdsourcing and acts of charity to rebuild their classrooms. DonorsChoose, an online education nonprofit where teachers can post their classroom needs and people can contribute, has funded more than 290 projects from teachers affected by Harvey, with about 13 projects still waiting to be funded.
"I am a first-year teacher and put everything I had to make my room the best I could for my students," one teacher wrote on DonorsChoose. "Harvey took it all, but my strength to rebuild could not be taken away."
At least nine Houston district schools were flooded, forcing students and teachers, to relocate to other buildings. One of those teachers wrote on DonorsChoose that the new building was "bare bones."
"All we have are four walls and, hopefully, enough desks for the students," she wrote. "After losing their school and their homes, my students need a well-stocked and inviting classroom that they have ownership of."
She asked for—and has received—$1,382 worth of basic classroom supplies, like a projector, a whiteboard, paper, markers, and pencils.
Yalitza Martinez, a Houston 1st grade teacher, received $560 from DonorsChoose to replace her classroom items, including a printer, bilingual books, crayons, and bulletin boards. She said in an interview with Education Week Teacher that her classroom was in a school trailer, and the water had risen about 4 feet, destroying all her books and the posters on the walls.
"I was really sad and mad," said Martinez, who is a first-year teacher. But "those are materials—it's really hard to rebuild a classroom, but at the end of the day, at least my students are OK."
Martinez's school relocated to a new building, and students are scheduled to return on Monday. She said teachers are still rebuilding, but little by little, they're making the new building feel welcoming. Other schools have sent her school books and extra furniture like chairs and tables, she said.
"There are students who lost everything, and we just want to return to normal as soon as possible," Martinez said. "Being there with students and knowing that there are people out there who care about our children—[it feels like] a great blessing."
Charities, foundations, and corporations have also donated sizable amounts to help teachers rebuild. Energy titan Chevron has donated $1 million to fund DonorsChoose projects from teachers in Harris County, which includes Houston. The American Federation of Teachers has partnered with the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation and the nonprofit First Book to deliver brand-new books and other classroom supplies to students and schools throughout Houston.
Of course, Florida educators are also picking up the pieces after Hurricane Irma swept through the state last week, leaving many school districts without power to date. DonorsChoose has raised more than $42,000 so far for classrooms that were damaged by that storm.
Image: Notebooks are stacked on desks in a classroom that flooded at A.G. Hilliard Elementary School in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on Sept. 2 in Houston. --David J. Phillip/AP