By MORGAN MANNS
Fostoria City Schools collected more than 30 boxes full of supplies for a Texas school affected by Hurricane Harvey.
Twenty large boxes (3 feet tall by 1.5 feet wide) and 13 copy paper boxes were filled to the top with pencils, pens, paper, folders, erasers, scissors, glue, book bags, dry erase markers and more Wednesday as Longfellow School staff sorted through donations.
Hurricane Harvey initially came ashore as a Category 4 hurricane in Texas on Aug. 25, then went back out to sea and lingered off the coast as a tropical storm for days. The storm brought five straight days of rain to the area, totaling close to 52 inches and millions of dollars in destruction.
While the physical effects of the devastating natural disaster did not reach the tri-county area, the emotional impact did.
FCS district officials discussed and decided to join in relief efforts as well as show support by collecting funds and adopting a Texas school to send supplies to. For three weeks, Longfellow, Riley and Fostoria Intermediate elementary schools hosted a supply drive, asking students and families to bring items in to help Live Oak Learning Center in Rockport, Texas — a fellow Leader in Me school.
“We were very pleased with the response we received in donations. The schools came together and collaborated very nicely,” Longfellow teacher and supply drive organizer Ryan Whipple said, noting a lot of classrooms used The 7 Habits to aid them in the process. “It gave us a connection to what we were doing and how we could help others. It was a team effort and our district and city showed how generous and caring we are.”
Live Oak Learning Center sits on the east coast of Texas, about 30 miles from Corpus Christi, and contains 36 classrooms for students in grades first through third. The school is part of the Aransas County Independent School District, along with Little Bay Primary, Fulton Elementary and Rockport-Fulton middle and high schools — all of which received devastating damage during the storm.
Live Oak Learning Center sustained the second least amount of damage out of the five campuses, according to Principal Robin Rice. The structure suffered heavy water damage throughout the hallways as well as nearly half of the classrooms. About 16 classrooms are receiving new walls while the gymnasium and the cafeteria/auditorium lost their floors.
“The fact that Fostoria, Ohio, from clear across the country is watching and saying ‘There’s a way we can make a contribution and we’re going to do that,’ has been beautiful,” Rice said in a Friday phone interview with the Review Times.
According to Aransas County ISD’s Facebook page, all of the schools — as well as central office and the football stadium — have been closed due to Hurricane Harvey. The district received a construction report Sept. 22 from North Star Recovery.
Live Oak Learning Center should be ready for students the week of Oct. 9, with teachers returning on Oct. 9 and students returning Oct. 11. The facility will also house kindergarten and pre-kindergarten students from Little Bay Primary, which will not be ready that week.
The new portion of Fulton Learning Center — which houses grades 4-5 — as well as the gym and cafeteria will also reopen that week. In addition, the high school’s east campus classrooms, art/life skills area and welding/carpentry buildings will open. The remainder of classes will be housed in portables.
The auditorium will not be usable again until late 2018, according to the post; however, the football stadium will resume games Oct. 12.
“It’s been an amazing process,” Rice said of the reconstruction, noting anywhere between 100-200 workers are in the building at a time. “They’re moving so quickly. It’s absolutely mind-boggling to me. We’ve made so much progress. No one stops working. We work from sun up, to sun down and there’s still so much work to do.”
A month after the hurricane hit, she said there are still piles of people’s homes around town.
“There wasn’t any kind of discrimination whatsoever with this storm,” she said. “We are truly in this together, picking up the pieces. I think that’s part of what keeps us going. We’re going to be stronger through this and look at things differently when we come back.”
Students have been enrolling in other school districts, based on their situation at home or if they had to leave and live with other family members. Rice said about half of Live Oak’s student population — as well as a quarter of the staff — currently attends a neighboring district while others have enrolled in schools in Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri and New Mexico and a few are being homeschooled.
When the buildings do reopen, Rice said there will still be a lot of work to do. Her building will not yet have a gym floor, the classroom walls will not have paint, the teachers won’t have the storage space they’re accustomed to and the playground won’t be ready for students.
She said it will be years before the district experiences any kind of “normal.”
“But we’re going to open and that’s what is most important,” she added.
Over the past month, FCS educators, students and families have been joining in relief efforts, collecting materials and supplies that were lost during the hurricane. But they haven’t been the only ones.
According to a separate post on ACISD’s Facebook page, the district has been “overwhelmed by the outpouring of generous giving from friends from all over the map.”
Trucks, trailers and school buses full of supplies, books and a variety of other items for students have been delivered to the district and are waiting to be sorted and distributed to the student body and teachers when the buildings reopen.
“That part has been really hard because our community has always been a really, really giving community. We’re used to being the giver. To be on the other end of that has been overwhelming,” Rice said, fighting back tears. “There really are not words to express our gratefulness.”
While a shipment date hasn’t been set, Whipple said details are being finalized to get the supplies to Rockport after Oct. 11. The United Way of Fostoria assisted with transportation plans, connecting the district with Roppe Holding Company, who will ship the items to the school.
“It’s hard to imagine what all they’re going through right now,” Whipple said. “I knew we were a very giving school district and the students, staff and community definitely showed that.”
He previously said the district hopes to continue its connection with Live Oak Learning Center through activities such as pen pals or virtual lessons in the future.
Longfellow also collected $160 in donations to the Texas school.
According to ACISD’s post, those who are still interested in helping may do so monetarily. Gift cards or money can be sent to PO BOX 907 Rockport, TX 78381 to the attention of Kathy Henderson/Hurricane Harvey Recovery. Checks can be made payable to ACISD. The district also has a gofundme account at https://www.gofundme.com/rockport-fulton-schools-hurricane.
Meanwhile, Fostoria Junior/Senior High School hosted two fundraisers for Harvey relief efforts. Approximately $300 was donated to the United Way of Houston for Hurricane Relief and another $200 — which was raised by the Art Club who offered face painting during two home football games — was donated to Red Cross for Hurricane Harvey Relief.
According to guidance counselor Teresa Vogel, the money was sent Sept. 22. In an effort to increase donations, high school staff members volunteered to receive a pie in the face based on the amount of money donated toward them.
Musical Director Benjamin Cates will be the recipient of a pie in the face at an assembly that has not yet been scheduled.