September 21, 2017

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After Hurricane Harvey, School Librarians Provide Support and Stories

The Bayside Intermediate School in League City, TX, on Sunday, August 28. Photo courtesy of Tamiko Brown

When school librarian Rachel Hinds saw the devastation Hurricane Harvey did to the neighborhoods surrounding her school, about 24 miles south of Houston, she knew she had to step up and do something to help the children who had been displaced.

For her, that meant donning her “Book Fairy” costume and heading to an elementary school in her district that was providing lunches for families affected by the storm. She handed out books and read to the children who were there.

“Kids love stories,” says Hinds. “They love to be told stories; they love to listen to stories, just knowing that I might have the opportunity to make the kids smile, give them a chance to be kids for a few minutes. My real motivation was let’s do something that’s fun. It’s been pretty harrowing. Let’s spread a little sunshine.”

Hinds, the librarian at Rodeo Palms Junior High School in the small town of Manvel, TX, says the kids got a kick out of seeing her “silly costume.”

“They’re tickled,” says Hinds. “Their faces light up. I’ve gotten lots of hugs. They’re very appreciative.”

Her own school didn’t sustain any damage and is set to open its doors to students again on Tuesday, September 5. But some faculty and staff members lost their homes. School administrators have been trying to find out how their students fared, but it’s been difficult reaching some of their families.

Rachel Hinds reads to children as her alter ego, the Book Fairy, at Don Jeter Elementary in Manvel, TX, where families displaced by Harvey are served lunch. Photo courtesy of Rachel Hinds

Hinds says she believes going back to school will provide students with a sense of normalcy. The start of school will also help officials figure out who needs help.

“Our school and school district tries to take care of our kids, and [that] oftentimes goes beyond [lessons on] ABCs and 123s,” Hinds says. “It’s providing for the whole child, and sometimes that includes taking care of their family, too.”

Mary Chance, the librarian at James S. Hogg Middle School in Houston, has also been working to help students in her district who ended up in shelters following Harvey.

Children forced to evacuate their homes during Hurricane Harvey play at the Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center. Photo courtesy of Mary Chance

Since Harvey hit, Chance, who is also president of the Houston Association of School Libraries, has been donating books to the children who are sheltered at the George R. Brown Convention Center. At the height of the evacuation, 10,000 people were living there.

Chance was able to leave the books she donated in a special area set aside for children. She has also been handing out flyers at the shelter that explain how kids can access free ebooks if they have compatible devices.

“As a librarian, I strive to serve the information and literacy needs of my community,” says Chance. “It is my professional mission, which I take to heart.”

Chance, who also lived through Hurricane Ike in 2008, says the damage caused by Harvey has “been surreal.”

Her principal divided up the contact information for the 850 students who attend her school and each teacher was responsible for calling a certain number of kids, but they were unable to reach them all.

Chance’s own home was not damaged by the storm, but her heart goes out to everyone who had to evacuate and lost belongings. “I can’t imagine what that’s like when you’ve been displaced from your home,” she says.

Chance will return to work on Friday, September 8, and school starts for students on Monday, September 11.

Tamiko Brown, SLJ’s 2017 School Librarian of the Year, is the librarian at Ed White E-STEM (Elementary-Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Magnet School in El, Lago, TX, which is about 30 miles south of Houston.

When Harvey hit, she and her family had to contend with a power outage and water streaming into their den through a broken window.

“We had to do a makeshift repair using all of our towels and sheets and old curtains just to try to get that water not to come into the house,” Brown says.

The flooded home of two teachers at Ed White E-STEM Magnet School in El Lago, TX. Photo courtesy of Tamiko Brown

Their battery-operated radio failed, so they had no idea what was happening.

To help her two children cope during the storm, she read them Jewell Parker Rhodes’s Towers Falling.

“It really helped them to get their mind off what was going on,” Brown says. “They were able to gain perspective that characters in books go through things and they could make the connection that they were having a difficult time. They were able to escape mentally.”

Meanwhile, the storm continued to rage. “The water kept rising in our cul-de-sac,” Brown says. “When daylight broke and the storm subsided a little bit, we realized that we were trapped in our neighborhood.”

That lasted for a day and a half.

Once things improved, Brown met with her school colleagues. They decided to send out a survey to their school community to find out how they had been affected by the storm and what kinds of assistance they needed. It also included information for anyone who wanted to help.

Brown says only half of those were returned, so it’s unclear how much help the teachers and students will need.

Students at her school are set to return to class on Tuesday, September 5. The school only sustained some minor damage. But a few teachers lost their homes. A parent set up a GoFundMe page to raise enough money to cover their insurance deductible, and Brown says it quickly exceeded that, which, she says, shows how caring their school community is.

“Hurricane Harvey will have a lasting impact on our city, and it will take years for some to recover,” Brown says. “I consider myself blessed that I only had to deal with a home power outage and street flooding. Now, I want to do all that I can to help school libraries that were impacted by the storm.”

If you’d like to help, you can:

Donate money through MackinFunds.com. All of the funds collected through this disaster relief site will be used to restore school libraries that were destroyed by floodwaters.

Purchase a Texas Library Association Coloring Book for $10. All proceeds go to the TLA’s disaster relief fund.

Record yourself reading a book for the Hurricane Harvey Book Club. This Facebook-based book club was started by teacher Kathryn Butler Mills. She wanted the children affected by Harvey to be able to listen to stories to take their minds off the storm.

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Marva Hinton About Marva Hinton

Marva Hinton is a contributing writer for Education Week and the host of the ReadMore podcast, a show that features interviews with authors including Nicola Yoon and Daniel José Older.

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