Teachers Organize To Help In Texas

Sep 3, 2017
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

More than 200,000 students in the Houston Independent School District were supposed to begin classes last week. But after Hurricane Harvey hit, officials delayed the start of the school year until September 11. Until then, what happens to the students, many of whom are living in shelters? Kristin McClintock is a special education teacher in Houston. And last week, she started Teachers Volunteering in Shelters, a group of area educators organizing to help children in southeast Texas. She joins us now from Houston. Good morning.

KRISTEN MCCLINTOCK: Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: First off, let me ask you, are you and your family OK and your house?

MCCLINTOCK: Yes. We're very fortunate that we did not have any flooding.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Good to hear. You got more than 800 teachers to sign up to volunteer with you in 24 hours. Can you tell me a little bit about what they're doing, what you're hoping to achieve?

MCCLINTOCK: Yes. So actually, right now, we're at 1,400 teachers (laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's wonderful.

MCCLINTOCK: Our goal has been to provide child care and learning opportunities for people that were traumatized and displaced during the hurricane. And we initially started deploying teachers into the major shelters. So teachers with specific content areas have been bringing in different learning activities and worksheets - anything from arts and crafts to yoga and mindfulness. Anything that will take the mind off of some of the parents and alleviate some of that burden so they can call FEMA and take care of things that they need to do. And they know their children are safe because they're with certified teachers.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Have you been going in yourself?

MCCLINTOCK: Yes. I have been at the George R. Brown, where there were about 9,000 people staying there and about 2,000 children. For the most part, the kids' spirits are pretty high. There's been some kids that have had trouble processing that are very scared of the uncertainty. The kids seem very comforted to see school ID badges. I think they know. They recognize teachers, and that seems to be really comforting to them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You are a special education teacher. I'm curious - what are some of the particular difficulties that special education students face when something like this happens?

MCCLINTOCK: Special education students have been impacted greatly. Many of them lost communication devices. So I've been going to the major shelters and giving low-tech picture exchange devices for them just so they can communicate some basic needs. I worked with a lot of students that are on the autism spectrum. Many of them lost comfort items and things that they need to soothe themselves. So I've also been working on gathering some of those things and dispersing them to students in shelters. And, also, headphones or earmuffs that noise cancel has been a big help.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Looking ahead, the school year is going to start on Sept. 11. And obviously that will alleviate some of the problems. But many of these kids will be dealing with families that have lost everything. What do you think is - are the challenges that you're going to face?

MCCLINTOCK: I know that we have within Houston Independent School District, 53 campuses with major damage, 22 with extensive damage. And we will have 10 to 12 thousand students alone that will have to be moved to other campuses. So we're just going to be bracing ourselves to welcome students in that maybe don't live in our area or don't come to our actual campus and make them feel welcome.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Kristen McClintock - she's a special education teacher at Westside High School in Houston. Thank you very much and good luck.

MCCLINTOCK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.