By Kelsey Deters
Imagine being trapped inside for days while a hurricane rages outside, and the floodwaters rise. While you are safe and dry, you know that beyond your windows there are people who are in danger. These people are fighting to stay alive and save as many of their possessions as possible. Some of those people might even be the children you spend five days a week with discussing history, geography and the world around them. Chad Cleveland faced this reality in August 2017 during Hurricane Harvey.
Cleveland, a Quincy native, grew up in the Quincy Public School District and was continuously involved with the Music Department. After graduating high school in 2011 he attended Illinois State University and is now a fifth grade Social Studies teacher in Pasadena, Texas, a suburb of Houston.
As Hurricane Harvey swept through the area where he teaches, the Category 4 Hurricane dropped 51 inches of rain on the city and caused disastrous damage. Following the storm, Cleveland took action and quickly got to work helping the students at his school who were in need.
During the holiday season, Quincy helped in the effort too. At the school's yearly Vespers presentation, the Quincy High School Music Department took donations and raised an amazing $3,500 to support Clevleand’s efforts to assist his students.
“He did so much during his tenure at Quincy Senior High to make Vespers come to life for the enjoyment of the Quincy community, that it is now our turn to return the favor,” wrote Kathi Dooley, QHS Music Department.
In this blog post we are digging deeper to Cleveland's efforts in the storm's aftermath.
Read to the bottom to learn how you too can help! The following is the Q & A interview.
What arts related activities were you involved with while you were growing up in Quincy? Growing up in Quincy gave me so many opportunities to become involved in the arts. I started choir in the fourth grade at Baldwin and continued through senior year at Quincy High School. During high school I was involved in the show choir, participated in four musicals and was co-choir president.
Why did you decide to become a teacher? I decided to become teacher because of the opportunity to influence the future. The youth of the world are literally our future and I want our future to be brighter tomorrow because of the work done today. I also became a teacher because of the summer vacation opportunity. I use this opportunity to travel to different parts of the world to learn about culture and bring back these real life experiences for my students who do not have the same opportunities yet. For example, this summer I lived in Thailand for two months teaching English and learning about a culture completely different from my own.
How do you think your background in the arts influences your life and work today? Being involved with the music department and the arts taught me a great deal of discipline. The arts taught me how important preparedness, collaboration, and time management is. Being involved in shows and performance groups taught me how to always be on my toes and ready to change direction if needed, a huge help in the field of teaching. Teaching, in a way, is a performance every single minute of every single class. You have this plan of how the “show” is supposed to go but always have to be prepared for the unexpected.
Can you tell us about how Hurricane Harvey affected you and your students? Hurricane Harvey had a catastrophic impact on the community. I was fortunate to stay safe and dry during the storm personally, but there was always the fear of waking up and looking outside the next day to see water coming into the first floor of the apartment complex I lived in. It was an anxious waiting game for so many days. The worst part was that, while being trapped up in the apartment, on the news there were images of people swimming from their homes or trapped on their roofs. In one case, it was one of my students shown wading through three feet of water to get from their home to the National Guard boats. After the storm, about 90 percent of our students were displaced or unable to return home until the water receded weeks later; most lost everything in the floodwaters. We now still have 90 students that are technically homeless and many more that have had to move to new homes, a stressful situation for any student to have to go through.
What kind of things have you and your fellow teachers done for your students in the aftermath of the hurricane? We opened our school as a temporary place for our students and their families to have internet access to apply for FEMA, have fresh drinking water, and an air conditioned place to cool down for the week we were closed after the storm. We had many volunteers bringing in all kinds of donations from clothes to baby formula. Our staff went out into the community multiple times to bring them fresh milk, cereal, and hotdogs. For multiple days, we sat at our desks calling nearly 700 families to check on them to see what their needs were and just to know that they were in a safe and dry place. We took down names of the families that needed help and matched those with the donations already received. Teachers personally drove supplies to students’ homes and helped them clean up the mess. We have received so many donations from all around the country to help replace students’ clothes, school supplies, toys, and pay for things like food and gas, all because of the connections that our teachers have. As of today, those 90 homeless students still receive free lunches from our school and a bag of food every Friday to help support the families over the weekend.
Over Christmas you partnered with the QHS Music Department to raise money for your students. Can you tell us how that came about? I had reached out to Kathi Dooley after the storm to help put something together to help my students. Kathi and I have maintained a positive relationship since graduation and two of my younger brothers are still in high school. At the time, I did not know exactly what our students’ needs were or how far our current donations would reach. Once we evaluated what we needed after the news stories had moved onto other natural disasters, we could see how quickly donations were running out and how many families still needed help. That is when I called the Quincy Music Department again and Sarah Grawe, Kathi Dooley, and I came up with a plan to take a simple donation during the Vespers concert. Vespers was always something I was overly passionate about, so it could not have worked out any better.
What kind of impact will those donations from the Quincy community have on your students this year? These generous donations are being used in different phases. The first phase was to provide students with gifts for Christmas. In February, we will be allowing students to purchase books through our school’s Book Fair. The next phase will be to provide spring and summer clothing in early March before our students leave for spring break. With any leftover money, we will be providing students with sports equipment, summer pool passes, and other miscellaneous summer items. These donations are going for some essential items that students will need, like clothes, but they are also being used to give students a better sense of normalcy. With children, it’s all about their mental state. When a student receives a toy or item that is theirs, not a hand-me-down from a stranger, it gives them their humanity back.
Is there anything you would like to say to those who took the time to give to your students? I would like to say thank you. No amount of words can describe how thankful I am to have grown up in the Quincy community. Thank you for helping us give back out students’ humanity. Thank you for showing us that we are not forgotten in a world where every time we turn around there seems to be another natural disaster or cause to donate to. I am humbled to know that so many, so far away, care so much.
Is there a way people can continue to give to your students? The Quincy Music Department will still be accepting checks and cash for the cause and I hope to partner with them and the Friends of the Performing Arts this March during the Showcase of Excellence.
To assist in this effort, please contact the QHS Music Department by calling 217-224-3774.
Click here for details on the 2018 Showcase of Excellence on Saturday, March 10.