Hurricane Harvey: Counselors Share Their Stories

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Hurricane Harvey devastated parts of Texas and Louisiana for the greater part of last week. The scale of the storm and flooding is unprecedented, impacting millions across 53 counties in Texas and parts of Southwest Louisiana.

Harvey made landfall near Rockport, Texas with winds of 130 mph on Aug. 22. The storm then moved toward the Houston metro area and lingered for several days, dumping nearly 52 inches of rain before hitting the coastal cities of Beaumont and Port Arthur with 26 inches of rain in 24 hours as it looked toward a second landfall in Louisiana.

While much of the focus has been on the homes that were lost, the storm has also flooded and destroyed schools, and has impacted more than 1 million students in 244 public and charter school districts in Texas alone, according to USA Today.

NACAC spoke with counselors in the impacted areas to learn about their experiences and find out how Harvey will impact their school and students in the weeks ahead.

Welch

Danny Welch
Counselor
Port Aransas High School, Port Aransas, TX

Port Aransas, located near where Hurricane Harvey made landfall, suffered immense damage. The town is without power, water, or a sewage system, and has only limited cell phone service.

“Driving in you just see poles down everywhere,” Welch said. “…There is so much chaos right now.”

Port Aransas ISD schools will be closed for a minimum of four to six weeks. At Welch’s school that means around 200 students will be displaced.

Evacuated students are dispersed throughout the region and the school’s Facebook page has been the only way to get information out. Welch and school administrators are using the page to encourage all students to enroll in public schools wherever they have been displaced.

“If the kids get in public school, they will be fine. They will have a counselor there and they can start applying to college. Those deadlines are just around the corner, FAFSA is coming up,” he said. “If the kids choose to homeschool, I have to figure out how to get them information on how to meet those deadlines.”

Siler

Tamara Siler
Senior Associate Director of Admission & Coordinator of Minority Recruitment
Rice University, Houston, TX

“There is nothing that prepares you to be this thankful for having dodged a bullet. Saturday night and Sunday morning for many of us who are lifelong residents was one of the scariest nights that we’ve experienced between the lightning, the nonstop rain, the volume of rain that was falling,” Siler said.

“I live at one of the highest points in my neighborhood and I’ve always sort of jokingly said that if the front of my house floods, I’ll have a sense of how bad it is out there. I looked outside on Sunday morning and the water was already up over the sidewalk…I knew at that point how serious things were in Houston.”

While the water never made it over Siler’s door, some of her neighbors weren’t as lucky. Her neighborhood has banded together to help one another out during this time.

Rice, Siler’s school, fared pretty well during the flood with little damage to the facilities. However, the impact, physical and emotional, to the Rice community at large is still something we still have to assess, she said.

“Right now, it’s just not a priority to think about the college admission process. A few of them are still trying and that’s sort of inspiring and heartbreaking at the same time,” Siler said.

“These students are first-generation, they are low-income, they know that college is going to be their way to a better life and they are on the grid for doing everything in a timely fashion. But at the same time, they’ve lost a week of school, they’ve lost a week of counseling at a very critical time…The fact is it’s still going on.”

Fuller

Jeff Fuller
College Counseling Director
Strake Jesuit College Preparatory, Houston, TX

When Hurricane Ike hit Houston in 2008, Fuller and his pregnant wife lost their home, so when he heard the news about Harvey coming to town, Fuller was nervous.

While his home today was spared, Fuller said he just feels “blessed and lucky” because “Ike was sort of nothing compared to what these folks are dealing with right now.”

“The scariest part right now is that there are so many unknowns. The water has not receded in many parts of the city and it’s not just Houston, it’s now hitting Southeast Texas, Beaumont,” he said. “…So many individuals are impacted. Many folks have lost their house, their cars. It’s unknown at this point how many lives were lost because of this.”

Fuller has spent every day since the storm hit volunteering and doing what he can for his community, and he hasn’t been alone. In fact, there have been lines to volunteer at most locations.

“The efforts in the city are just amazing. It’s an amazing community, Houston. It speaks to how committed and resilient folks are here,” he said. “But there’s a lot of rebuilding that’s going to have to happen, so folks are just trying to do what they can right now.”

His school, Strake Jesuit, faced some minor damage, but the students will be able to return to school as scheduled. Many families, however, have been displaced.

Parents and faculty from Strake have come together to offer shelter and to collect clothing and necessary items for the displaced families from their school.

Fuller said the college application process hasn’t been on the top of his mind, but he feels confident that universities and colleges will do right by affected students.

“We just ask universities demonstrate their heart and their commitment to doing what’s right for students and families in allowing them not to feel as stressed about this college process knowing that they have much more pressing things on the top of their mind.”

Ashley Dobson is NACAC’s communications manager for content and social media. You can reach her at adobson@nacacnet.org.

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