School started in Port Aransas Independent School District, a small public school district on the coast of Texas known for its Legacy of Excellence, on Monday, August 21, 2017. The week before, at our annual staff professional development week, we had introduced Choose To Be Nice and each of our three schools were making plans to implement the curriculum and associated activities. The first three days of school went very well and there was much excitement about the school year. There was a possibility of a tropical storm heading to the Gulf of Mexico at the end of the week and we were paying close attention to the weather briefings, but the chances of it hitting our area were slim and we were not terribly concerned.
On Thursday morning, August 24th, the 4th day of school, our students arrived for school and then I attended a 10am emergency operations weather briefing at city hall. The mood was grim. The storm had strengthened overnight, was moving fast, and Port Aransas was in the bullseye. We immediately began asking parents to pick up their children and preparing our buildings for the landfall of a very strong hurricane. The mandatory evacuation began at 9pm so our staff hurried to ready the schools while also worrying about their own homes.
Hurricane Harvey made landfall the next day. The major category 4 storm devastated our community, leaving nearly every building in town, including all school district buildings, with major damage from both high winds and storm surge. Our schools were closed for seven weeks.
It has been eight months since Harvey made landfall and while much progress has been made, we realize that there are miles to go in our road to recovery. Several months ago we began recognizing “Harvey Silver Linings” and most of those have something to do with kindness that was shown to us in the aftermath of the storm. Children chose to be nice by donating the proceeds from their lemonade stand to our schools to replace classroom items destroyed by Harvey. Just fifteen miles south of here, the storm damage was very minor in comparison, and several PAISD families offered to do anything to help at our schools. Those families chose to be nice by bringing lunch to our staff members who were working everyday to get our schools reopened. They also headed over to the homes of our staff members and assisted with the very dirty work of “mucking out” their homes. Neighboring school districts chose to be nice by not only enrolling our students while our schools were closed, but also giving them backpacks full of school supplies, making custom t-shirts for them, and genuinely opening their hearts to care for our students during the most difficult of times. Several schools chose to be nice by donating the proceeds from their book fairs to us so that we could replace books ruined by the storm. Retired teachers chose to be nice by raising funds to give every teacher a gift card to purchase items to decorate their temporary classrooms. A school in Taiwan chose to be nice by raising funds to purchase a spirit t-shirt for every student and staff member at our middle school.
We had planned to implement the “Choose To Be Nice” program this year to encourage and inspire kindness. While our plans were derailed by Harvey, we found that we all learned more about choosing to be nice because of the incredible kindness shown to us. We recently had an open house to invite our parents and community members to see our restored permanent buildings. At the elementary school, the students and staff wrote on paper handprints how they had been shown kindness during the past eight months. The halls were covered in handprints! What a great reminder of all the “Harvey Silver Linings”. Our students have seen kindness modeled and when we start the Choose To Be Nice program again this fall, our students will be motivated to put the lessons into practice and repay the kindness shown to them. Harvey may have knocked us down, but he did not knock us out, and the silver linings will continue to be revealed and appreciated.
Superintendent of Schools
Port Aransas ISD