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ICEC provided first response support to teachers and children in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
In emergency situations teachers can and do make a difference. In the aftermath of the hurricanes in Louisiana, teachers focused on the children. Teachers helped teachers, schools became places of refuge, and teachers became leaders in the recovery efforts.
St. Bernard Parish was destroyed when the levees broke. Out of fourteen schools only Chalmette High School was left standing. It became a last place of refuge for more than 1,500 people, families with children, older adults, some frail, some needing medical attention, some dying. “Cries from the neighborhood could be heard and people continue to arrive wet, scared and upset.” Cookie Mundt, the assistant principal says. Speaking of the administration and teachers she says, “We had a plan in place and we don’t let each other down.” “We had to have a presence,” Doris Voitier, the superintendent, says, when she talks about the trailers she bought for teachers so that Chalmette could be reopened in the aftermath of the storm. “I love that the parish has a school,” a mother of a first grader, says, on the first day back. “We were ready to come back home,” she says, speaking on the day the school reopened after Katrina.
Jefferson Parish is across the Mississippi from New Orleans and many children from New Orleans and the Ninth Ward found refuge in the schools. Kate Middle Elementary School was quickly filled. “I am homeless too,” Aretha Williams, the principal, tells families on the first day of school. “If your child is anxious, stop in and see me. If you have questions, stop by. If you need help, come and ask me. If there are families in you neighborhood, please tell them we can take their children.”In each location teachers and administrators were first responders and they took a leadership role in restoring the social fabric of children’s lives.
“Healing can begin at school,” a teacher says, in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane. “It’s important that the children feel loved.” They talk about children from the shelters who are so exhausted they sleep with their heads on their desks and about the need for pillows. They puzzle over children who are acting out and how they can support them. “I have a child who is somewhere else,” a teacher says. They discuss the conditions in the shelters and share stories that the children have told them. Teachers help teachers. They talk of respecting children’s wishes and of children doing their best to cope. First responders in the shelters have not been able to take care of all the children’s basic needs and the conversations focus on making sure children have food, clothing and shelter. They discuss the ways in which they are establishing basic routines and engaging children in creative activities. They know that children who are traumatized need time to catch up with their thoughts and feelings.