[StBernard] Action: FDLHS teacher witnesses hurricane devastation at partner school
westley at da-parish.com
Tue Apr 3 19:48:32 EDT 2007
Action: FDLHS teacher witnesses hurricane devastation at partner school
by Mike Jaber
(The following article was submitted by Mike Jaber, a teacher at FDLHS, on
his return from Louisiana.)
For most of us, Hurricane Katrina was an event that we watched from our
televisions as the people of New Orleans and parts of Mississippi were hit
by the storm. The morning after the storm, the people of New Orleans and the
surrounding areas thought that they had survived a potential catastrophic
situation and were ready to return to their daily routines, even though
there was a lot of wind damage to structures to repair.
What happened next was something that was unprecedented in American history.
Levee failures, affecting miles of neighborhoods, left the residents without
their homes, their personal possessions and their jobs.
The Fond du Lac School District decided that it wanted to step in and assist
a school district in New Orleans that had been hit the hardest.
The school that we "adopted" as our sister school is Chalmette High School
in St. Bernard Parish. For the last 18 months, we've made an effort to send
Chalmette High School many different educational supplies, as well as money
from district-wide fund-raisers. However, as with most of the country, our
sense of urgency to help the people of New Orleans has dwindled over time.
Recently, Fond du Lac High School Principal Mary Fran Merwin returned from a
five-day visit to New Orleans where she experienced the continuing
devastation from Hurricane Katrina.
After her visit, she shared with the Fond du Lac High School staff
information regarding the continued horrible conditions in New Orleans.
Since her presentation, the staff and students have begun organizing events
to help raise money for our "sister" school. To begin, the student council
of Fond du Lac High School agreed to send $2,000 to our sister school to
jump-start our campaign, and we expect a lot more to head that way as soon
as our fund-raisers have concluded.
Through our "Partnership in Education" with Mercury Marine, I traveled to
New Orleans with two colleagues, media specialists Al Fuller and Jodi
Hannis, to meet with St. Bernard School District officials and Chalmette
High School administrators.
One, Superintendent Doris Voitier, had just been informed that she would be
receiving the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for her work in the
aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
She took out loans, secured portable classrooms and rented trailers for
displaced teachers to reopen the schools, despite having a borrowed computer
and no working phones. Caroline Kennedy, president of the John F. Kennedy
Library Foundation, said in a statement, "Despite insurmountable odds, Doris
Voitier rebuilt the schools of St. Bernard Parish, making sure the children
of her community had a place to learn and grow when they returned home."
Before the trip, my understanding of St. Bernard Parish was that they were
probably still in the rebuilding phase, but they were making great progress.
I was greatly mistaken. This parish is like a war zone. At least 85 percent
of the homes are unoccupied, severely damaged and mold infested; and the
homes that aren't totally in ruins have a FEMA trailer sitting on the
property where the owners are residing, hoping to someday rebuild or sell
There were miles upon miles of houses with nobody living in any of them. All
the windows were gone and the doors were wide open, exposing the houses'
contents. There were red "X's" spray-painted on each house and building with
the date that it was searched and a number recording the number of bodies
found inside. Animals were documented on the outside of the house as well. A
damaged oil storage tank leaked and toxic water stained the homes. There was
no sign of life anywhere.
I can only say that almost two years after this disaster, the government
still has not come through for these people, and many of them are living in
just horrendous conditions.
I am so proud of our school and community for assisting these great people
and they are so appreciative that they have us.
Recently, Al Fuller, Jodi Hannis and I were able to share our experience in
New Orleans at a "Lunch and Learn" program at Mercury Marine. Approximately
80 employees listened to our story about what we like to call "The Forgotten
We had employees coming up to us after our presentation asking how they
could help, as well as other employees giving donations to the school that
we have adopted.
As we continue to move towards our goal of sending money to St. Bernard
Parish, Fond du Lac High School will be hosting fund-raising events for our
"sister" school in the upcoming weeks.
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