By Iuliana Petre
Killeen Daily Herald
Hurricane Ike proved no match for the Killeen Independent School District, as staff, faculty and administrators started working last week to tackle the issue of providing an education to children of families brought to the area as a result of the storm.
Late last week, the Texas Education Agency sent an e-mail to affected school district superintendents saying that the districts "may be required to enroll students using the same procedures used for former evacuees of Hurricane Katrina."
Early Monday morning, KISD's superintendent Dr. Jim Hawkins received a follow-up e-mail from the TEA, stating that the district would be required to enroll school-aged children that are currently housed in area shelters.
This was easy for KISD, since district personnel were proactive in visiting shelters, meeting with parents, passing out enrollment packets, gathering school supplies and clothing for children, as early as last Wednesday.
And the pre-emptive moves proved worthwhile because by Monday morning, no later than 11 a.m., more than 60 school-aged students were on campuses throughout the district.
"We were ready. We were very much ready," said Jennifer Washington, KISD's director of student, district and community relations.
The shelters in the area filled up quickly beginning with the community center in Harker Heights, which reached its maximum capacity at 113. Of those, 24 were school-aged children who were enrolled at Mt. View Elementary School, Eastern Hills Middle School and Harker Heights High School.
Evacuees housed at the Killeen Parks and Recreation center reached maximum capacity at 150. Of those, 15 are school-aged children. The students from the facility were enrolled at East Ward Elementary School, Manor Middle School and Killeen High School.
The third housing facility, the Boys & Girls Club on Trimmier, housed 120 evacuees, of which 28 are school-aged children. Students from that facility were enrolled at Trimmier Elementary School, Manor Middle School and Shoemaker High School.
"At Mt. View Elementary School, administrators had backpacks and T-shirts ready. The principal met with the parents of these children," Washington said, adding that at other schools like East Ward Elementary School the principal was "absolutely outstanding in establishing a rapport with the students and was ready to receive them."
In fact, the principal and administrators at Trimmier Elementary School even visited with families at the Boys & Girls Club shelter and helped the ESL students complete their enrollment paperwork, Washington said.
The school district worked closely in conjunction with Communities in Schools members to gather clothing and supplies for students.
"We find resources to take care of these kids," said Mary Barr, the director of CIS, adding "we gather everything needed in the way of clothes and school supplies."
CIS still needs donations of clean, repaired clothing for all school-aged children, from the elementary to high school level. Monetary donations or school supplies may be taken to the CIS location in Killeen, which is on the East Ward Elementary School Campus.
"Donations made to CIS will get to the children who need the resources," Barr said.
KISD made an exemption in its uniform policy for children of evacuees enrolled at KISD schools. Those children do not have to abide by school uniform procedures as long as the students wear school-appropriate clothing.
"The TEA considers these kids homeless and the state of Texas provides a plethora of services and support to homeless kids," Washington said, explaining that if a child has no money for lunch, then lunch is provided. Medical services are often provided by the school district as well.
"There are a lot of benefits that come with being homeless," Washington said, explaining that the stay for these kids may be temporary or it may be long-term. Since electricity and water is still down in those areas from where most of the families evacuated, KISD is expecting to have these kids for one to two weeks or quite possibly longer.
"Our main concern is that these kids have some normalcy. The routine of going to school is important for a child especially when encountering a disaster like this," Washington said, adding that KISD is aiming to provide stability and normalcy to keep students from falling behind.
"We're going to provide them a good educational setting so they can try to excel while they are here. I think we accomplished that this morning, but I'm telling you it was not easy," Washington said.