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The start of school means many things to many people. But for the faculty and staff of Hilliard Elementary School, this year is a celebration of resiliency.
The excitement is palpable in the school, as teachers move about putting final touches on their classrooms. The pristine foyer features a colorful bulletin board proclaiming the school’s theme for the year — Mission: Possible.
“It’s good to be home,” Hilliard Principal Erica Kimble said. “That’s how everyone feels.”
It was just one year ago that Hurricane Harvey ripped through the Houston area, leaving the nation’s fourth largest city under 51 inches of water. The flood waters took no mercy on Hilliard, depositing as much four feet of water in some areas of the school.
“We had already started setting up classrooms. Teachers had their materials ready to go. We had passed out textbooks. We were in that process when we were told we had to evacuate the building,” Hilliard Teacher Specialist Bathsheba Nash recalled.
“When we came back, it was a feeling of sadness. We were on an emotional rollercoaster. We had heard the stories and saw the news. But to come back, walk our campus and see it was heartbreaking.”
During the year that followed, teachers pressed forward, moving students to the former Fonwood Early Childhood Center while crews worked to renovate their damaged campus. Nash said teachers and staff worked diligently to create a fun and engaging atmosphere for their displaced students, and their efforts paid off, with students easily adjusting to the temporary space.
On Monday, the flood-damaged facility will re-open its doors to students for the first time since the storm. The renovated campus has been fully restored with new classrooms, a new library, and new gym. It also has a new drainage system and retention pond to prevent future flooding issues.
“The district has done a really good job of ensuring that our building is put together the way it should be,” Nash said. “We’re ready to receive students, and we’re looking forward to it.”
Adding to the excitement is the news that for the first time in five years, Hilliard has received a “met standard” rating from the Texas Education Agency.
“It’s a testament to the resilience of this community and the passion of our teachers,” Kimble said. “This is a mission for them, too. It’s not just a job. It’s a calling for them.”
As Hilliard students and staff get ready to tackle a new school year in their renovated building, Kimble said the community is rallying to support them.
“Entities in this community and others far away want to support the work going on here,” the principal said. “We’re extremely blessed and thankful for that.”