By Marta Martinez, McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Liaison, Northside ISD, Texas
As the enrollment of students displaced by Hurricane Harvey increased, so did my concerns about how their needs would be met as they enrolled at campuses throughout our large district. The impact of this tragedy on the lives of children and their families spans a wide spectrum, as do their experiences and need for support. While there are some common basic needs they share, there are also specific individual needs that require more in-depth consideration and efforts.
Our office at the school district provides some assistance, but I realized there are also services already in place at the campus level that can be supportive to our students and families. The outreach to and communication with not only families, but also with Campus Liaisons and colleagues, are important as the children enroll at their campuses. The need to continue existing services and to create new ones is a topic of conversations that are taking place among campus and district staff from departments such as Social Work, Guidance and Counseling, Child Nutrition, and Nurses/Health services. Teachers, Parent-Community Coordinators/Liaisons, and school administration all have a part in responding to the disaster. One of the most important activities is confirming that families are aware of and linked up with disaster relief services and other community and district resources.
Many parents and children are still processing what has happened. They are still dealing with the aftermath as they return to what were their homes, schools, neighborhoods and communities, and they realize that their stay in a new city may be longer than what they had expected. The families who are displaced from Hurricane Harvey have a long road to recovery, and we do anything we can to help them — not only as part of an education system, or an organization, but as individual people. We listen to their personal stories, try to help ease their worries, and provide hope and support.
As I continue to check in with Campus Liaisons, I’m hearing of many activities that campuses are doing to help their students. For example, Larry Lira, a counselor at Holmes High School, is working with parents and guardians to ensure that students’ schedules reflect classes that their previous district can work with in order to transfer credits for students. Connections to groups and other support services also are important. Irene Alvarez of Ross Middle School has set up a system where each new student is paired up with another student who is their “buddy” for the first day, providing a tour of the school and showing where the scheduled classes will take place. School staff explain any programs that are unique to the school that may not have been offered at their previous school, and inquire about any programs the students may have participated in, so that we can try to connect them to those programs.
We all have a role to play in ensuring that families and students who are displaced by Hurricane Harvey receive the help they need to regain stability in their lives.