Austin ISD welcoming Harvey's youngest survivors to its schools

AUSTIN (KXAN) -- School districts in the Austin area are welcoming young Hurricane Harvey evacuees and working to enroll them in classes.

Austin ISD Superintendent Paul Cruz and Mayor Steve Adler announced that students living in shelters can enroll there, but those who are staying in Austin can also go to a local school to enroll.

"We have a message today for all the kids and parents that are either in our community or are headed this way," Adler said. "I want you to know that we got you."

Officials are creating an Austin Education Harvey Relief Fund to collect schools supplies and other donations to support the affected students. It will have details on its website.

AISD is operating a shelter at LBJ High School and working to help people experience a sense of normalcy. It is coordinating activities for the children, and plans to give people a chance to attend Friday night football games.

Two sisters KXAN spoke with who arrived from Houston Tuesday night with their five children, and initially stayed at a Reagan High School shelter that has since been put on standby.

"It was up to my stomach. It was high, very high," Dayshon Butler said, describing the water level outside her Houston home.

The images leave you breathless. The storm had Butler's niece gasping for air.

"The effect of it all, my daughter had an asthma attack so we had to go by 911. We called like 3-4 times," Butler's sister, Dana Watson said. "The roads was covered and couldn't no one get over."

With the help of a stranger, the sisters and their children made it to LBJ Hospital in Houston.

"I was going to get through the storm, get her to a hospital even if we had to walk through it, we was getting there," Watson said of her daughter.

A day later, a bus took them to Reagan High School in Austin, far from all that's familiar.

"She's emotional," Watson said of her sister, who began to cry, as Butler leaned her head on her younger sister's shoulder. "We all got out together, we all stuck together we all still here together. So at the end of the day, a family that sticks together, prays together. We still together."

Together to take on the tough stuff and provide some sense of stability for their kids.

"At the end of the day, you got to look at what's best for your kids also," Watson said, as her children played outside the shelter. "'Cause if your kids out of school down there and we here for right now, it's best to have them in school where they can still get their lessons and then once we get back they be still on track."

"We made it out. We here," Watson said. Now, it's just a question of how long.

AISD tells KXAN its doing all it can to ensure student needs are met and that there will be minimal lapses in their school year.

"I have a message for the school kids here in our community," Adler said. "If you find yourself lucky enough to have one of our new guests join you in your classroom -- what a great opportunity to make new friends. And I'm going to trust you will help these new studens feel at home in our community."

More than a decade ago, AISD also opened its schools to survivors of Hurricane Katrina. The district selected nine schools for the evacuees to attend closest to the convention center. Parents and their children attended special orientations at the schools before starting class. Then AISD loaded them up in buses and took them from the convention center to school and back. An estimated 700 evacuees attended Austin schools.

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