When Robinson Elementary School flooded, their neighborhood schools (Holland Middle and Pleasantville Elementary) stepped up to take in displaced students and their teachers. In order to support students, leaders from the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, American Federation of Teachers, Houston Federation of Teachers, and First Book visited Holland Middle School as part of a joint “Hurricane Harvey Relief: Essentials for Kids Fund” effort. The groups surprised students with more than 500 books on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017.
HISD Superintendent Richard Carranza, AFT President Randi Weingarten, Barbara Bush Foundation Chairmen and Founders Neil and Maria Bush, First Book CEO and President Kyle Zimmer, and HFT president Zeph Capo observed two Holland MS classrooms filled with Robinson students learning.
After the tour, attendees gathered for a brief ceremony with Holland Principal LaShonda Bilbo-Ervin and Robinson Principal Paige Channing Hohos. Bilbo-Ervin welcomed visitors with a “Holland Hello” and thanked them for the books, saying, “These gifts are the building blocks for putting a school back together. Resilience is accepting our new reality.”
Hohos thanked her students and teachers, some of whom were in the audience. “We had 21 inches of rain in our school, but we also lost a mother who had students at both Robinson and a Holland, so we have been deeply impacted. When I saw these books, I got so emotional, because we lost all our new books. Thank you so much!”
HISD Trustees Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Diana Davila spoke next, with Skillern-Jones announcing that impacted teachers would receive $100 gift cards to either Office Depot, Crystal Children and Teacher Supply, or Lakeshore Learning, thanks to the HISD Foundation. Superintendent Carranza added that the Foundation will begin offering grants of up to $1,000 to HISD teachers who were impacted by Harvey.
Zeph Capo told students that these books are “our way of letting you know we care about you.” He also gave a shout-out to Westside HS special education teacher Kristen McClintock, who spent days at the George R. Brown Convention Center shelter after the hurricane working with children with special needs.
Capo introduced AFT President Weingarten, who addressed the students, asking them, “How can we help Holland Middle School feel like a place where you can feel safe and secure? We are all here as a family to make sure that out of this tragedy comes tremendous hope.”
Neil Bush spoke as well, announcing that the Barbara Bush Foundation would present a $75,000 grant for books for displaced teachers. “Teachers are the front line in this fight for literacy,” he said. “To see everyone coming together to help is truly inspiring.”
Next, Randi Weingarten of the AFT announced that in October, they will distribute 36,000 new books to Houston educators, and every dollar contributed to the AFT Disaster Relief Fund will go to those impacted by the hurricanes here and in Florida.
Weingarten and Zimmer also reported that the Essentials for Kids Fund, a partnership between the AFT and First Book to provide basic necessities for under-resourced classrooms, has been expanded to aid hurricane victims.
The books given to the students to add to their home libraries all have central themes of dealing with traumatic events and overcoming obstacles.