Houston teachers take on 'new normal' in portable classrooms
Six weeks after the 7.0 earthquake, Houston Middle School students and teachers are settling into their "new normal."
The middle school building is closed indefinitely due to extensive damage from the Nov. 30 quake; many of its classes are now in portable classrooms at the Houston High campus.
On Friday morning, sixth grade language arts teacher Amanda Williams gave her students new sweatshirts the Mat-Su Borough School District made for the kids. The black hoodies read, "Nothing shocks the Hawks."
"It's pretty awesome, it conveys some solidarity," Williams said.
Construction crews set up the portable units over winter break. Williams had two days to set it up before students returned.
"We spent the first three months of school making that classroom ours that it was really hard to come into the portable and have nothing," Williams said.
After the earthquake, middle school teachers had 30 minutes to tag supplies they wanted movers to bring over.
Williams quickly grabbed some personal items that were important to her too: An elephant mug with a broken handle and a poster of the 1940s New York City skyline that took her a decade to find.
"It was right next to where two support walls separated so I'm trying as quickly as I can to get it off the wall but I Duct Taped it so I ripped so many holes in it," Williams said. "I looked over and I could fit my hand through the wall and wave at the hallway."
The first week back in class, she gave students a journal assignment to discuss the pros and cons of the portable.
"The good part is we don't have to be quiet for the other classes," one girl said.
Most agreed the worst part is transitioning between classes outside, when it's 10 degrees below zero.
"It could be worse. We could be in an area where it rains every single day. At least here it's pretty, but it's cold," Williams told her class.
Inside the main building, staff added maps and signs to help middle-schoolers find their way. Principal Ben Howard said putting a few hundred more students into the mix was challenging.
"After that first day things have gone really smooth," Howard said. "There are little things that come up like in our portables, sometimes our internet access will go out, trying to make sure the kids are flowing through the building nicely, so we're making adjustments. On a scale of 1 to 10, we're about an 8."
While the classrooms might be a little farther apart, students are happy to have their friends close by.
"I thought we would get transferred to different schools, split up the middle school and go to different schools," said sixth grader Cheyenne Clauson.
That was Williams' biggest concern too. "We're still the Houston family, which was really important to all of us."
The district is still getting a cost assessment of the damage. It's undetermined whether the middle school can be rebuilt or needs to be torn down for a new school.
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