Children of God

At Grissom Elementary 300 of 800 kids are homeless.

And despite what she says are the "draining" requirements of the job for all the staff at Grissom, Smith says she doesn't have a big turnover. "We feel we're on a mission and not on a job."

Last year, an 11-year-old boy lost his mother to cancer and went to live with his grandmother. Teacher Norwood "stepped right in along with the administrators and teachers and took him home from school and to tutorials."

The mother with seven children and the husband deported for the second time? Correa and Edwards did a cooking demonstration for the mom, who couldn't read English, so she could understand what to do with the donated food.

The family with nothing but a jug of water ended up inheriting furniture from Grissom that the school had planned to discard.

Not everything has a happy ending or even a happy "now," despite their best efforts. "It's not all fluff. Sometimes you get down to the nitty-gritty," Edwards said, which takes its toll on teachers.

A staff member painstakingly combs a girl's hair, then tells her to go on to breakfast and is screamed at in a mean way. A group of boys gets a trip to the barbershop, but on the next day gets into a fight at school. Word comes back to the school that a former student, now older, has gotten pregnant but doesn't want the teachers at Grissom to know.

"Things are not always positive, but our teachers are resilient. They keep coming back," Edwards said.

At last year's end-of-year ceremonies at Grissom, not all the fifth-grade students had arrived dressed up enough to cross the stage. Edwards got on the PA system asking for white shirts and black pants and whether anyone had size 8 shoes and could they take them off long enough to allow a student to wear them for the ceremony. One teacher donated his belt, took it off in class and handed it over.

In HISD, students can continue to get a free lunch at summer school. When that's over, they're on their own, looking for other programs. A school like Grissom and its staff becomes a lifeline to students and their families who are trying to survive.

It is shocking and appalling that we have so many homeless children in Houston, kids who may not know where they'll be from one night to the next, whose advantages are few. Teachers at Grissom, who don't make a lot of money to begin with, are the ones picking up the names on the school's angel tree, buying lunches in a pinch, finding clothes for these kids.

"People here really work with their heart. They give a lot of themselves," Smith said. "They do a lot of things on their time and out of their own pocket that'll go unknown."

But now you do know. At Grissom, they give their time, money and hearts to their students. They'll even give them the shirts off their backs.

margaret.downing@houstonpress.com

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