A first look at how Bear Creek Elementary students are adapting to life at Paetow High School
KATY MAGAZINE I October, 2017 Katrina Katsarelis
Photo: Bear Creek Elementary students take an orchestra class led by Paetow students
When Bear Creek Elementary was damaged during Harvey, Katy ISD had to find a fast and safe alternate plan for the 710 students who attended the school. Paetow was the natural choice because it had just opened to only freshman and sophomores so it had the most space available of any campus. Nervous Bear Creek parents had to wrap their arms around the concept of their children being bused to a school they had never even seen.
As the Bear Creek Elementary students initially arrived at Paetow High School, they seemed in awe of the wide halls, high ceilings and walls of windows. As they looked around at their new campus, students commented about being on a field trip, while others joked about getting "skipped" to high school. Overall, the kids were upbeat and eager to get back to familiar routines. "It filled our hearts to see the kids back and ready to learn," says Dr. Lorena Zertuche, Bear Creek Elementary School Principal.
Displaced students and staff
Of the 710 students that attended the school before Harvey, 625 students showed up for school the first couple of days of school. Approximately 310 students and 17 teachers were displaced due to Harvey. Parents are dropping off students at Bear Creek Elementary where they are then bused to Paetow. Many families are driving in from from outlying areas like Alief, Cypress, and inner Houston where are temporarily housed due to the flooding.
Welcomed with open arms The students and staff at Paetow have welcomed Bear Creek students and staff with open arms. Although they had the whole campus to themselves for only seven days when Harvey hit, the high schoolers have opened their hearts in a big way. Dr. Zertuche says a lot of Paetow high schoolers are using Bear Creek's signature "one finger wave" to say hello as they pass the little kids in the halls. Students have also read to the kids, led them in orchestra lessons, and have been very welcoming.
Long commutes and adjustments
According to Dr. Zertuche, one of the hardest adjustments for the kids right now is their long commute. "It takes 30 minutes to get to Paetow from the Bear Creek Elementary meeting location and that makes for a longer day for the kids." As far as the staff, Dr Zertuche says they are really missing their materials and Smart Boards in the classrooms, but they are doing their best to be resourceful. Because the campus is so big, everyone is getting used to a lot more walking. There's no playground equipment so the students go outside and play on a big, open grassy area outside with lots of toys and balls to burn off their boundless energy.
Mixed reactions and emotions
The first reactions were mixed. Some students were nervous of the unknown and others seemed excited by the change. At first, the kids were extremely excited to reunite with their teachers and friends and that made it easier for them. "Our students are resilient and adapting extremely well to the new building, delayed start schedule, and commute," says Principal Lorena Zertuche. She says the teachers have been very positive and totally focused on the kids while operating with limited resources. "Right now, they just want to go back to home sweet home, (to Bear Creek Elementary), but they are certainly taking it in stride." School counselors are also on hand to help as needed.
New items spark excitement
Although many kids understandably showed up with just the clothes on their backs, they were met with a lot of new items that helped spark the excitement. Staff and volunteers from Beck Junior High, Davidson, Rylander, and Kilpatrick Elementary Schools made sure students were welcomed with a brand new backpack. Businesses and churches donated school supplies that were waiting for each child on their desks, as well as colorful wrist bands to help them keep track of the new dismissal procedures. I'm extremely proud of our students, staff and community in the way they reached out to help each other in the recovery efforts, says Katy ISD Superintendent Lance Hindt. "We've got a long way to go, but we will get there!"
Heading back to home campus
The staff is handling logistics and overcoming each challenge as it comes up, but there is a much uncertainty in the air. "We have lots of families who have gutted out their houses, but are displaced and have no idea whether they are going to rebuild or be bought out."
Katy ISD announced the students will be back at their home campus starting on Monday, September 25.
How to help
Over 300 Bear Creek Elementary families were impacted so an Amazon Wish List has been set up for these them. Click for Wish List.