With the start of a new school year in full swing, I had planned to write this week’s column on a back-to-school-type topic. But then Hurricane Harvey struck.
Like so many others, I watched in horror as the waters rose, as streets flooded, and as people had to abandon their homes and their vehicles in order to save their lives. At times, the scenes were so painful that tears streamed down my face.
One of my former students is now a teacher in Corpus. Two former McAllen ISD teachers, who are among my closest friends, live in the Houston area, one in Rosenberg and the other in Friendswood. My friend’s daughter, who I have known since she was born, also lives in the Houston area. My heart feared for and then ached for them. My friend in Rosenberg miraculously managed to escape to McAllen with her husband, also a former McAllen ISD teacher, and their son after everyone in their subdivision was given mandatory evacuation orders due to fears of a levee breach.
Feelings of sadness and helplessness overwhelmed me. Thankfully, a glimmer of light began to shine through the darkness in the form of generous and compassionate people risking their own safety to rescue others. It grew brighter as people from across the state, and even across the country, began collecting donations of clothing, food, water, and personal care items.
Then my friend, Vivian Tamez, a teacher at McAllen ISD’s International Baccalaureate program at Lamar Academy, sent me a flier made by Valeria Carpenter, a teacher at McAllen Memorial High School. At the top, it read, “MCALLEN INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT IS UNITING TO HELP OUR SISTER DISTRICT ARANSAS COUNTY ISD!” Sister district. I loved it. Although I’ve heard of sister cities for years, I had never heard of sister districts. Vivian told me her fellow IB teacher, Andrea Gutierrez, decided MISD should make ACISD its “sister district.”
As Vivian watched the devastation caused by Harvey, the first school district the media identified as sustaining significant damage was ACISD. (ACISD educates 3,316 students from the communities of Holiday Beach, Lamar, Fulton, Rockport, and the northern area of Aransas Pass.) Vivian sent an email to ACISD’s superintendent asking how McAllen ISD could help. Tisha Piwetz, ACISD assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, responded. Her email on August 30 expressed sincere gratitude for the outpouring of donation offers; however, she wrote that the district still had “no power, no running water, and no climate-controlled location to store donations.” They were in a holding pattern. At the end of Tisha’s email, she included two hastags: #piratestrong (The district mascot is a pirate.) and #wecandohardthings .
Tisha sent another email the following day, letting Vivian and others offering help know that the district’s Education Foundation set up a GoFundMe account (https://www.gofundme.com/rockport-fulton-schools-hurricane) that will allow the district to purchase exactly what they need to get up and running again. On that site, Suzanne Ransleben, executive director of the Foundation, writes that all five of ACISD’s campuses “have catastrophic damage.” Sixty-five percent of ACISD students are economically disadvantaged, she continues, and many of them lost their homes.
Vivian teamed up with Valeria, Andrea, Cindy Pena, Lamar Academy principal, and others to create a donation drive. Vivian then contacted Dr. Jose Gonzalez, MISD superintendent, and he immediately said yes!
As Vivian and the group were putting their plan together, the only thing missing was how they would get all of the donations to Aransas County ISD. In stepped CAPA (Concrete, Asphalt, Pipe, Aggregates), a company here in the RGV willing to transport everything MISD collects.
This is how YOU can help McAllen ISD’s sister district. Now through Friday, September 15, Rowe High School is collecting canned goods for ACISD families. Memorial and McHi are collecting toiletries. Achieve Early College High School, Lamar Academy, the Instruction and Guidance Center (I & G), and MISD Administration offices are collecting bottled water. Elementary and middle school “feeder” campuses are collecting the items in their “vertical teams.” You can deliver your donations to the front office of any MISD campus.
Visitors to ACISD’s website will find a bold-red update from Superintendent Joseph Patek that is difficult to read, emotionally. “We have just received our formal damage assessment and it has been decided that school will be closed indefinitely,” he begins. He then explains that they have a team in place to begin repairs. “We know parents are concerned about their children's education and emotional wellbeing as are we. We encourage those parents/guardians that have the ability to go ahead and enroll your student in a school district where you are currently staying or where you have family… It is our plan and desire to get our campuses up and running so we can welcome our students home as soon as possible…We do not have a timeline for how long the recovery process will take.” First, he said, they must have drinkable water and power. Then they must ensure that all facilities are safe and that classrooms have the supplies they need to properly educate ACISD students. Superintendent Patek ends with this: “I promise you all, we will not wait one day longer than necessary to bring our students back through the doors of all of our campuses in ACISD…All of you continue to be in my thoughts and prayers during this time.”
(NOTE: The Rowe vertical team includes De Leon, Fossum, and Lincoln middle schools and Alvarez, Castaneda, Garza, Hendricks, McAuliffe, Seguin, and Thigpen-Zavala elementary schools. Schools in the McAllen High and Memorial High vertical teams include Brown, Cathey, Morris, and Travis middle schools and Bonham, Escandon, Fields, Gonzalez, Houston, Jackson, Milam, Navarro, Perez, Rayburn, Roosevelt, Sanchez, and Wilson elementary schools.)
Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.