Students returning to school feel weight of Harvey

Gabriella Canales By Gabriella Canales

Sept. 11, 2017 at 9:21 p.m.
Updated Sept. 12, 2017 at 4:28 a.m.

Shields Elementary fifth-grader Joel Monjaraz, 10, writes what's on his mind. Joel said he is worried about family members he has not seen since Hurricane Harvey.

Shields Elementary fifth-grader Joel Monjaraz, 10, writes what's on his mind. Joel said he is worried about family members he has not seen since Hurricane Harvey.   Angela Piazza for The Victoria Advocate

Although Chloe Reynolds was safe and dry Monday at Shields Elementary School, her mind was wading through Houston's floodwaters, hoping her father was OK.

"My dad lives in Houston," Chloe, 10, said on the first day back at school. "I've cried so much watching the news and seeing Houston."

Victoria school district welcomed students back Monday for the first time since Hurricane Harvey passed through the Crossroads.

Feelings of anxiety tagged along with students to the school bus and into their classrooms as they journeyed through their second first day of school. Victoria originally went back to school Aug. 21 but had to close after Aug. 27 in advance of the hurricane.

An assignment called "What's On Your Mind?" allowed fifth-grade students at Shield Elementary School to write their thoughts from before, during and after the hurricane.

Chloe wrote about staying at her grandparents' house in Victoria during the hurricane.

"That house is waiting to fall apart," she said. "I felt I wasn't safe. I was scared."

She also wrote about the three days her family did not have electricity.

Her family needed power because her grandmother sleeps with a breathing mask, she said.

"I relaxed when the power came on," Chloe said.

After the storm, she said, a power line rested on the family's roof.

"My Popo couldn't take it down because he had surgery on his knee last year," she said. "It was like a needle on a thread."

She also is concerned about her four cousins who live in Port Lavaca, she said.

"My aunt, her whole trailer home was caved in, so she can't live at home," she said. "My mom's side of the family got a lot of damage. I feel bad for them."

The weekend the hurricane came in was when she was supposed to see her father, Chloe said.

"I feel disappointed because I haven't seen my dad," she said.

Another student who documented feelings of uneasiness was Joel Monjaraz.

Joel contemplated whether his father would be able to fix their roof because they have little money, he said.

He was able to visit family members in Victoria after the hurricane, but he hasn't seen his uncle who evacuated to Austin.

"I want to see if my uncle is OK," Joel, 10, said. "I just want to go home."

Leading the students through the exercise was Tracy Montez, a fifth-grade teacher.

By raising their hands, about half the class showed they stayed in Victoria, while the other half evacuated during the hurricane, she said.

"We had some that lost their homes," Montez said. "It's OK to be angry."

By acknowledging the situation, teachers are able to address students based on their responses, said Kim Motley, the school district's counseling coordinator.

Teachers were given scripted questions to cover with their classes Monday. Before that, they reviewed a presentation about how to identify students having a difficult time.

"With a class of 20-plus, it's better to identify students, then refer them to (the) counselor or principal for assistance to have one-on-one help," Motley said.

Through a child's eyes, the experience of Harvey depends on their developmental level and personal exposure, she said.

Younger children may experience separation anxiety, withdrawals, outbursts or change in school performance, she said.

A teenager may have an increase in risky behavior and act out in different ways.

Stress can lead to students having difficultly focusing in class. Depending on their anxiety level, they may need to step out and have a moment to refocus or see a counselor, she said.

Teachers also were affected by the hurricane, Motley said.

"Teachers do a good job of being empathetic," she said. "All are working to be sensitive to each others' feelings and emotions at this time."

Parents should limit their children's media exposure and spend extra time with them. Talk about the situation and discuss with them how they can problem-solve and feel safer, Motley said.

"Keep a routine with your child," she said. "Have a set dinner and bedtime. That provides a feeling of safety in itself."

Related coverage

Day 1: Here comes Harvey

Day 2: Brace yourself

Day 3: 'Prayers protect us'

Day 4: 'We thought we were going to die'

Day 5: 'At least God let us live'

Day 6: 'It's the luck of the draw'

Day 7: 'Everybody will pull together'

Day 8: Guadalupe floods parts of Victoria

Day 9: Texas Zoo evacuates animals (w/video)

Day 10: The Long Road Ahead (w/video)

Day 11: Residents rely on families to rebuild

Day 12: For some, normal still far away

Day 13: Church offers refuge for devastated town

Day 14: Victims find hardship, opportunity (w/video)

Day 15: FEMA frustrates Harvey victims

Day 16: Displaced and in disarray

Day 17: Disaster for humans means catastrophe for pets

Day 18: Nature interrupted (w/video)

Day 19: 'It was like we had been bombed'

Helpful information

Where to get water, gas and other supplies

Helpful information after the storm

Updates on city services

Additional coverage

Life after the hurricane

Neighbors helping neighbors

County expects end to sewage sludge fight

Sheriffs faced difficult choice with jail evacuations

City's mosquito spraying continues

Following local pilot, state sprays mosquitos from air

Businesses continue to dig out of Harvey's havoc


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