Refugio schools find way to reopen

Gabriella Canales By Gabriella Canales

Sept. 18, 2017 at 10:15 p.m.
Updated Sept. 19, 2017 at 5:38 a.m.

Jennifer Flores, an attendance clerk, answers the phone in a temporary office at Refugio High School. The auditorium behind her has severe mold damage and has to be stripped and rebuilt before being used again.

Jennifer Flores, an attendance clerk, answers the phone in a temporary office at Refugio High School. The auditorium behind her has severe mold damage and has to be stripped and rebuilt before being used again.   Ana Ramirez for The Victoria Advocate

REFUGIO - For Michael Moore, sitting in a makeshift Refugio school office in the gym's foyer without air conditioning felt more normal than the past three weeks.

"This is not what any of us planned," Michael, 18, said Monday. "We are still a family, we are all strong and we will be all right."

The senior was among many Refugio school district students who began the school year Monday. The start of the year was delayed because of Hurricane Harvey.

In the same hallway sensing the same disbelief was senior Audrey Rose.

"It makes me sad," Audrey, 17, said. "I hate seeing the school in this condition."

The uncertainty of class locations amplified the mix of feelings carried by the students after the hurricane, she said.

"It will always be around, and people will always be talking about it," she said. "It's crazy something like this would happen."

School officials made enough progress to be able to get students in class sooner than anticipated, said Superintendent Melissa Gonzales.

"It was (a) test and problem-solving," Gonzales said. "We took one problem at a time."

The most difficult part was finding the space to educate students with fewer classrooms, she said.

At least two teachers are sharing classrooms because of damage sustained to their classrooms, she said.

The high school office area had to be stripped down to the studs, she said. The auditorium will be next because of the high amount of mold.

Band class will be conducted on the field, while physical education classes will take place in classrooms and the softball field, Gonzales said.

A walkway with a roadway blockade allows students to safely move between each building to reach their new classrooms.

"It's been like a chess game," she said. "We had all the pieces move one way ... you make one move, and that affects everything else."

Last year, 407 students were accounted for on the first day of school for prekindergarten through sixth grade, Gonzales said. This year, 34 fewer students were present Monday.

Districtwide, 90 fewer students were accounted for Monday.

Gonzales said she anticipated lower numbers because she knew students' homes were destroyed, while others left town.

"It breaks my heart," she said. "I want our kids to be educated here. This is their home."

Gonzales has been working with the Emergency Office Center and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to discuss when temporary housing will be established in the city, she said.

She also plans to seek assistance from FEMA for the repairs, she said.

Working for the district 15 years makes the situation personal because she is the superintendent for the children of her former students from when she was a teacher, she said.

Months into her new role, she said, God placed her in the leadership position to lead during this trying time.

"This is something we never saw coming in our life," she said. "He is my strength to get through."

To families who may be displaced, Gonzales had a message: Find a school nearby and enroll.

"Don't let your education be placed on hold," she said. "Our arms are going to be open wide when you return."

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'

Day 20: Students returning to school feel weight of Harvey

Day 21: International Crane Foundation loses office after hurricane

Day 22: Ranching structures, cotton mostly damaged by Harvey

Day 23: Port Lavaca struggles back after Harvey

Day 24: Refugio: 'We're trying to get back to normal'

Day 25: Nonprofit leaves people lost after Harvey

Day 26: 'We are human beings like everyone else'

Helpful information

Where to get water, gas and other supplies

Helpful information after the storm

Updates on city services

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Apartment complex terminates leases because of Harvey damage

Red Cross releases damage assessment to VOAD group

No timeline set for Riverside Park to reopen

Neighbors helping neighbors

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Hurricane Maria batters Dominica as Category 5 storm


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