Principals and campuses from New Jersey to California are providing assistance to Texas schools impacted by Hurricane Harvey, thanks to the efforts of Kristen Eriksen, principal of Sunset Valley Elementary, a Keller district school in north Fort Worth.
Hundreds of principals from across the United States had signed up to help more than 200 schools in Southeast Texas through a grassroots effort called “Principals Helping Principals.”
The administrators are adopting South Texas schools and asking their communities to donate gift cards, clothing, school supplies, nonperishable food and toiletries.
Eriksen said she got the idea last week while communicating with other principals on a Facebook group, “Principal Principles Leadership Group,” with almost 4,000 members from across the country.
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“We were wondering —‘what can we do to help all these schools?’ I put up a post saying maybe we could all adopt a school in need,” Eriksen said.
She added a spreadsheet with spaces for principals to record whether they were from a school in need or a school that wanted to help. Within an hour, about 100 people had signed up, some of them offering assistance, others seeking help. The response kept growing from there.
Along with principals from Keller, other North Texas school districts that are participating include Arlington, Fort Worth and Northwest.
Many of the Gulf Coast area administrators have not been able to get into their buildings and don’t yet know the extent of the damage, Eriksen said. But many of them do know they have families who have been flooded out of their homes.
‘This is an awesome program’
Irazema Ortiz, principal of Our Lady of Guadalupe School in Houston with 200 students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, was one of the lucky ones. She was walking around her campus Friday morning as she and staff members prepare to reopen the school on Tuesday. Their first day of school was Aug. 14.
Ortiz learned that five teachers and staff members have homes damaged by flooding and at least one family in the school had a flooded home.
“I think everyone here is still in shock,” she said. “I think our students will be ready to come back. It will be good to get back into a routine. We’re blessed to not get hit hard.”
Felicia Sheedy, principal of Mayde Creek Elementary in the Katy school district, said about a third of her staff had been flooded out of their homes, but the school was not damaged.
The outpouring of support and all the Katy community coming together give her hope. Her school was adopted by a school in Illinois.
“It gives me a lot of optimism to know so many want to help us, both right here in Texas and around the country,” she said.
Donna Reynolds, principal of Hood-Case Elementary in the Aldine school district, said her school wasn’t damaged and was open Friday to serve meals to families in the community.
More than 75 percent of her 750 students are economically disadvantaged. Many of them live in apartments or trailer homes that may have been flooded. The problem is communication. Much of the area is still without power, cellphone service and internet.
A school in Portland, Ore., adopted Hood-Case Elementary. Reynolds expects to hear of a lot of needs when students return to school. Sept. 6.
“This is an awesome program,” Reynolds said. “I’m overwhelmed.”
‘Partners for the long haul’
Michelle McAdams, principal of the Northwest school district’s Kay Granger Elementary, also in north Fort Worth, said many of her staff members wanted to help and several of them have family members in the storm-damaged areas.
Amanda Borg, a counselor at Granger, has family in the Houston suburbs of Spring and Cypress. While their homes have not flooded, others in their neighborhoods have been damaged.
Borg collected donations of clothing, shoes and diapers and made plans to drive down to Spring on Friday to check on her parents and assist in relief efforts.
“This process teaches them they can help and make a huge difference even today,” Borg said.
McAdams said that even though Northwest students just returned to school this week, kids and families were quick to offer help because they saw the tremendous need.
Granger Elementary will focus on its adopted school, Ridgecrest Elementary in the Spring Branch school district in suburban Houston, for the North Texas Day of Giving on Sept. 14, McAdams said.
Eriksen’s Sunset Valley Elementary adopted Farney Elementary in Cypress. They are collecting school supplies, toiletries and gift cards. Farney’s principal told Eriksen that the school doesn’t have a lot of damage, but some of the families have had extensive damage at their homes.
Eriksen hopes to go to Cypress in a few weeks with a group of teachers to deliver some of the items herself.
“This is not going to be over in a month,” she said. “We want to continue to be their partners for the long haul as needs arise.”