PORT ARANSAS, Texas – Back to school every year since 2017 means something different to the city of Port Aransas, one of the towns pummeled by Hurricane Harvey five years ago.
By the time Harvey poured its last drops onto Port Aransas, every school in the area had been torn apart.
“So we did not have even one classroom that would be available for students for months. Standing water everywhere, roof issues and no electricity in August (2017),” said Port Aransas ISD Superintendent Sharon McKinney.
McKinney is going into her seventh year as superintendent and has spent almost all that time in recovery mode.
“We completely shut down for seven weeks, and when we returned to the district and opened up school, all of our classes were being held in temporary portable buildings,” she said. “Our elementary and high school mostly opened up right after the Christmas holidays, but our middle school was closed for the entire school year.”
The middle school has enormous columns steadying the main building, but they were still no match for Hurricane Harvey, which blew the roof off and destroyed everything underneath it.
As crews cleared the rubble, something else also became apparent: this district is full of fighters, helpers, and leaders.
“Our staff, man, they worked miracles. I’ll never forget the time I walked into one classroom portable building in what was high school at the time. And I had four math teachers in four corners sitting in chairs with the kids,” McKinney said.
One of those “miracle workers” was Brundrett Middle School Principal James Garrett, who is going into his 10th year on the job.
“I think we were somewhere around like 85% of our students came back. And that was honestly unheard of compared to some of the districts that dealt with the same damage that we did. That just tells you that the parents want their kids back in school here, and the kids want to be here,” Garrett said.
He said his little school family has learned never to take anything for granted these past five years.
“It’s just nice to have a building,” Garrett laughed.
But he said he knows that’s not even really what matters.
“The people that are in the building are the most important thing,” Garrett said.
That is something the people outside of the school buildings truly understand. Though the entire town sustained damage after the hurricane, the community prioritized the schools.
“When the tourists leave, you know, you really find that the schools are the very foundation, I say, the heart and soul of our community,” McKinney said.
They call it a “Harvey silver lining” when they see how quickly and fervently their community rallied around them.
“This place takes it to another level. People come from all over our town, all over the community to show up at basketball games or cross-country meets or theater productions, or whatever, because they really do support our students and what we do here,” McKinney said.
The community’s love for their schools touched people’s hearts across the state and the world.
“These flags represent other schools that donated and helped out to the middle school after Hurricane Harvey,” McKinney said, pointing overhead as she walked into the middle school.
Waving above the middle school entrance is a daily reminder that even when the world seems crazy, unmanageable and unfair, good people are everywhere rooting for resilient communities like Port Aransas.