At school for storm evacuees, hugs before homework
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"I feel a bond with the staff already," says Deborah Quinn, a third-grade teacher who lost both her home and her school in Empire, a fishing village southeast of New Orleans. "These kids need a stable environment, and this school offers that. Kids are resilient."Skip to next paragraph
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Over in the first grade classroom, Khloé Jackson says she's having a great time in school so far. "The fun part is we have no booksacks, and we have a nice teacher," says the cheerful, chatty girl, before listing what her family left behind in New Orleans: "I lost my toys, my daddy lost his Bibles and his cane - he was a preacher - and they lost their car. My daddy says there's this green stuff that grows [on the house] every day."
Casey Gorum, a third-grader from New Orleans East just registering for her first day, says what she misses most are her friends, now scattered across the country.
"It's all she's been talking about," says her mother, Michelle Gorum, a nursing assistant now living with extended family in Baton Rouge. "It's been sleepless nights just trying to get them back in school."
Still, Casey is keeping upbeat - "I'm glad I'm traveling around!" - and a few minutes later, she's chatting happily with other girls in Ms. Quinn's classroom.
While Mayfair and Scotlandville are made up entirely of former New Orleans residents, far larger numbers of the estimated 372,000 K-12 students displaced by Katrina have simply been absorbed by schools around the country, often straining district resources.
In the hard-hit sections of the Mississippi coastline, meanwhile, the challenge is restarting damaged schools for the many students who remain in the area.
At North Bay Elementary School in Bay St. Louis, all that remains is a shell. An entire south wall was ripped off, and water flooded past the roof when the storm surge hit. Sodden books, desks, and computers are scattered amid the few remnants of learning: a plastic globe that still hangs from the ceiling, and a bulletin board with posters of the alphabet, shapes, and a calendar.
The school was one of six in the Bay St. Louis-Waveland district. Two were destroyed completely, two were badly damaged but retain their structural integrity, and two were flooded but should soon be usable.
For the area's youngest students, Save the Children and other local groups are working to get day cares operating again.
"Kids were living in tent cities, playing in rubble, playing in contaminated mud," says Gloria Necaise, a Harrison County worker for Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi, an antitobacco group that's helping hurricane victims. Her group helped restart Tiny Tots, a day care in nearby Pass Christian, which has reopened with double the number of children, and is working to get others back in operation.
Toddlers at Tiny Tots play happily with Legos. They talk about birthdays, loose teeth, and airplanes, and only occasionally speak of the storm.
"It went like this," says three-year-old Landon Dedeaux, miming a tree falling. "And then we saw that tree fall. It was a very big tree."