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

Houston—Hurricane Harvey has faded from front-page newspaper headlines and the top of cable news, but for thousands of families, the chaos and dislocation are still very much top of mind.

Luckily, some of them have been able to use technology to fill some basic needs in education and communication.

Uma Dama, whose Sugarland, TX, home was flooded from the storm, says she, her husband, and two children are living with friends while their home is repaired. They lost daughter Anjali’s laptop in the flooding but a donation helped plug that hole. “We don’t have a lot of things right now, but at least I could sit them in the corner and they could do their homework,” Dama says.

The Texas Education Agency estimates that around 1.4 million students attend schools damaged in some part by Harvey; some schools still have not reopened, and many homes are still uninhabitable.

During hurricanes or other disasters, families scramble to pack up important items—family photos, important documents, and the like—but everyday electronics items sometimes get left behind. While FEMA, the Red Cross, and other large organizations are providing large-scale relief to the millions affected by Harvey, individual families are also getting help from ad hoc donations made by companies like Carfax, which donated a batch of Chromebooks in Houston. The laptops, along with restored connections to Wi-Fi and social media, are providing displaced families in the Houston area a crucial lifeline to the outside world and a small sense of normality.

To address older students, like those in college who are affected by Harvey, a group made up of Austin edtech startup Civitas Learning, Austin Community College, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and others has turned to crowdfunding, which has raised about $50,000 to provide grants that cover emergency needs, from replacement medicine to Uber gift cards for a student whose car was flooded. The idea is to help these students, even in small ways, deal with the disruption created by the storm so they will stay in school.

Mark Milliron, Civitas’ co-founder says about 500,000 college students were affected by Harvey, and many of them were already considered to be vulnerable to dropping out, such as those who are first in their families to attend college. He says the crowdfunding campaign dovetails with the edtech startup’s mission, which is to use data analytics tools to help provide support to those at-risk students.

“We’ve found that helping them overcome life and logistics helps them stay on the path,” Milliron says. “And … Next Page »

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Angela Shah is the editor of Xconomy Texas. She can be reached at ashah@xconomy.com or (214) 793-5763. Follow @angelashah

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