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Two weeks after Ike, kids are still not in school

Since Hurricane Ike knocked out power at their elementary school two weeks ago, Jakin and Jared Cordova have been playing a lot of video games.
Ike Schools
Tables are lined up outside Alamo Elementary School in Galveston, Texas, as cleanup continues in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike on Thursday. More than half a million children have beem out of school since the Sept. 13 storm.  David J. Phillip / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Since Hurricane Ike knocked out power at their elementary school two weeks ago, Jakin and Jared Cordova have been playing a lot of video games.

For the 9- and 6-year-old brothers, it's awesome. For their mother, not so much.

"We try to give them stuff to do reading-wise, do outside stuff, make them go to the park," a frustrated Natalie Cordova said. "They're still just playing video games a lot."

Like more than half a million children in the nation's fourth-largest city and on the Texas Gulf Coast, the boys have been out of school since the Sept. 13 storm brought life to a standstill.

"As a working parent, I can't provide what they need, the same stimulation they get at school," said the Cordova boys' mother, a Houston chiropractor.

About 20 percent of schools in Houston — the biggest school district in Texas — and all of the Galveston schools remained closed Friday.

In a state whose passion for high-school football was made famous by "Friday Night Lights," hundreds of games have been canceled as a result of the hurricane and the damage it wrought, shortening the season for many teams.

Getting ready to open
Most Houston schools will reopen on Monday. Officials have been drying soggy carpets and wall maps and airing out moldy library books. Fallen trees are being removed and the fences around schoolyards repaired.

While a few Galveston schools will open next week, many are serving as shelters for people made homeless by the storm, while others are too damaged to use any time soon.

Children are being allowed to enroll in other districts around the state, far from their old homes and friends.

Once school is back in session, educators will have another problem: How to make up for lost class time. Administrators are considering extending school hours or holding classes on holidays or days normally set aside for staff training.

"It's a long time to be out of school," said Debbie Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the state education department. "They really need to cover the material. A week or two, you can probably cut out a few activities and cover the material. But a month or more, that gets awfully hard."

'I want to go back'
Parents who couldn't take off from work to watch their kids have had to rely on friends, older siblings, neighbors or grandparents. Offices have been filled with children coloring and babies crying. Parental time-limits on video games have been lifted.

Some Houston parents were even considering sharing the cost of a tutor to homeschool their children until school reopened. Families who evacuated took textbooks with them and have been using online education sites to give their children some math and reading lessons every day.

As the second week with no schools ended, even some kids said it was getting old.

"I want to go back to school," said Mauricio Cano, 7. Cano, who has been with neighbors and friends while his mother, spends his time reading his favorite books. At night, he and his mother, Marta, discuss the books and play math games.

"I'm not worried about his schoolwork because he's progressing in reading," his mother said. "But I feel better when he's in school while I'm working."

Tonya Boxley, a teacher whose house on Galveston Island was destroyed, has temporarily enrolled her children in school in nearby Texas City, where she is staying with her brother. She said she is worried that victims of the storm will fall behind.

"Our kids have been traumatized," she added. "They are not in the state of mind to receive education."

Counselors on hand
In Houston, counselors will work with Galveston children and others enrolling in the school system to help them cope with being uprooted, just as they did after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

In Dallas, where nearly 70 Ike evacuees have enrolled, one of the lessons of Katrina was the importance of getting children back to school, said Sandra Guerrero, a spokeswoman for the district.

"They needed to see a more stable environment," she said. "School gave them security."