After Harvey’s Chaos, Tech Tools Provide Key Connection to Schools

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[Harvey] is one hell of a life logistic.”

As schools around the region began to open around mid-September, two weeks after Harvey roared through, Elkins High School 11th grader Sowbhasri Srinivas says, she was out of sorts, bouncing with her family from house to house until they could find somewhere to live while their house is renovated, and having trouble keeping up with homework because her laptop was destroyed in the flooding.

“I had no way of contacting [classmates and teachers], and no access to the Internet,” she wrote in an e-mail. “It seemed crazy! … I didn’t get all the notifications my teachers would send out online. I wasn’t able to text my friends to help me with certain subjects.”

But her family, like the Damas, received a laptop, a gift that the families say has helped them feel just a little bit less dislocated, especially as the rest of the world has moved on from the storms. “Technology is more than just an educational tool,” says Shanna Lumpkin, a second-grade teacher in the Humble Independent School District near Houston.

Lumpkin lived in Jackson, MS, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the surrounding Gulf Coast in 2005. Her brother was a student at Tulane University. “I remember we could barely get in touch with anyone for weeks,” she says. “It was just so much better for your soul if you could reach out.”

Remembering that, she decided she wanted to communicate with her current students after Harvey. Compared to twelve years earlier, she had stronger Wi-Fi networks and cell connections, and newer edtech tools like Class Dojo and FlipGrid, to stay in touch. On what was supposed to be the first day of school on Sept. 2, Lumpkin says she used Facebook Live to read to her students a storybook called “What Do You Do With a Problem?” by Kobi Yamada.

“I read a story every single day until we got back to school,” she says. In addition to story time, Lumpkin says she encouraged children to use FlipGrid to compose videos introducing themselves to their classmates. “I approved the videos that they shared, but they started reading stories to me,” Lumpkin says.

The kids were returning the favor, it turns out. While Lumpkin’s home was not damaged, her mother’s was flooded and required days of mucking out. When she got home at night, holding story time over Facebook Live and seeing her kids’ videos helped calm some of the chaos in her own family’s lives.

“This is going to get better,” she says.

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