But there is hope. Schools can mobilize to identify the students in need of support and provide them with the resources needed to stay on track. Researchers can help. St. Bernard Parish, just outside of New Orleans, participated in the Strategic Data Project (SDP) at the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University to help its students, many of whom had been displaced by Katrina. The hurricane destroyed the entire parish, including all 14 schools. The challenges students faced at home skyrocketed. Before the storm, 49 percent of students were eligible for free and reduced-price lunch; that number shot to 79 percent the year after.
In the years that followed, SDP Fellows Mary Lumetta and Alison Gros collected data to determine which students were in need of interventions, and they worked to increase their likelihood of on-time graduation. Guidance counselors were trained to use data to track participation in interventions, like grade recovery programs, so students who missed school could catch up to their expected grade level.
Houston schools have already responded by announcing that all students will receive three free meals a day this year. That's one example of how communities can mobilize after disaster to protect students and build resilience. After Andrew, I moved to the northwest part of the city, away from our flattened, flooded streets. There I found safe harbor at a school miles from my neighborhood, where a teacher unlocked my love for writing during “intersession,” an additional school period designed to support students whose parents were working extra hours to rebuild after the storm. Ms. Bledsoe taught me to use writing as a tool to unpack what had happened to my home and my community — now 25 years ago.
In Houston, school was supposed to start this week. Now, with the city in chaos and floodwaters still surging, schools are closed, and the lives of so many families have been disrupted. The Houston Independent School District will be charged with the incredible task of keeping students anchored, when everything else, at least for a little while, seems adrift.
Supporting Houston's Kids After Harvey