Half a year after Hurricane Harvey, education programs still on slow road to recovery

The gym at Kempner High School in Sugarland, in Fort Bend County southwest of Houston, was converted to a shelter during Hurricane Harvey. Photo by Pu Ying Huang for The Texas Tribune

It’s been six months since Hurricane Harvey’s floodwaters receded, but the recovery needs of children and families along the Texas coast and in Greater Houston have not. Their worlds were turned upside down, with more than 1 million people displaced, over 200,000 homes damaged and more than 1,500 child care, early learning and education programs critically impacted.

Both the well-being of Texas children and their future are markedly dependent on these early learning and education programs, and when they’re no longer available — as too many still are — kids’ lives are disrupted. That’s why Save the Children is working together with local partners, doing whatever it takes to help restore these programs and get children back to learning and on track.

Children like Jay, whose hard-working family is reliant on the Southwest Glen Mission and its Houston-based after school programs to offer a safe place for their children to learn, grow and have fun after the school bell rings each day.

The nonprofit runs five after school centers in low-income apartment complexes across the city, providing homework support, tutoring, and learning and enrichment activities. Flooding engulfed all but one of Southwest Glen Mission’s centers in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, causing major structural damage and destroying furniture, learning and office materials, and food supplies — effectively closing programs for more than four months. And because the centers share learning materials, equipment and supplies, the other program location that wasn’t severely flooded was left struggling and needed to close temporarily after the historic storm, too.

I visited one of these centers and was greeted by a number of kids wearing T-shirts saying “I am college bound — no excuses.” Known for its STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activities, the center has a designated space where STEM projects are built and tested, where many kids in the program work together, using their imaginations, to design and fine-tune their engineering experiments.

The nonprofit’s after school centers also have designated reading areas where kids practice their reading independently and one-on-one with center staff and volunteers. They also regularly read out loud to their fellow after-schoolers, steadily building the confidence to read and speak in front of others.

During my visit, I met Jay, a second grader who is still struggling to read. Every day, tutors at the Southwest Glen Mission ask the 7-year-old different questions about the books he independently selects from the center’s shelves in the reading room, strengthening both his reading comprehension and communication skills. As Jay moves progressively from book to book at the center, the tutors help him sound out words that are challenging him.

I sat down with Jay as he was working through his most recent book and reading assignments, and we successfully worked out some words together, a smile of pride flashing across his face as he conquered each one.

The Southwest Glen Mission is critical to the everyday successes of children like Jay, gauging each child’s challenges and strengths and catering to those individual needs and interests.

To support the Southwest Glen Mission in its recovery after Hurricane Harvey — and make it even stronger for future afterschool participants — Save the Children is helping the nonprofit replace lost learning materials and supplies. We’re also providing new computers and printers at all of the nonprofit’s program locations to support its tutoring services and its well-respected STEM programming.

But six months after the storm, there are still more afterschool programs, child care centers, early learning and educational services whose doors are either still closed or operations are still drastically cut short.

The recovery response has been hopeful, but we need more commitment from state and federal officials to help ensure more programs like those of the Southwest Glen Mission are up and running at full strength, so children like Jay have their best chance to be successful at school and in life.

Mark K. Shriver

SVP of U.S. Programs & Advocacy, Save the Children