Young Flood Victims Enrolled in New Schools
SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
Coming up, lessons learned from last year's tsunami and other disasters can help recovery efforts on the Gulf Coast.
But first, the school year that begins Monday in Lafayette, Louisiana, will be like no other. Schools in that city, 130 miles northwest of New Orleans, are racing to absorb more than 4,000 additional students, as children are coming mostly from the New Orleans area where a quarter million schoolchildren have been displaced by Hurricane Katrina. NPR's Claudio Sanchez is in Lafayette and has this report.
CLAUDIO SANCHEZ reporting:
For 10 straight days they've come to Lafayette nonstop, over 2,000 families with school-age children, mostly from New Orleans, Jefferson Parish and St. Bernard Parish, and for 10 straight days the questions parents must answer before they can register their children have been the same.
Unidentified Woman #1: Do you have birth certificates or...
Unidentified Man #1: None.
Unidentified Woman #1: ...Social Security for each of your--any of the...
Unidentified Man #1: Oh, Social Security we have.
Unidentified Woman #1: OK. Do you have the cards with us--with you so that we can make a copy to put in the file?
Unidentified Man #1: No.
Unidentified Woman #1: No.
Unidentified Man #1: No.
Unidentified Woman #1: OK. Do you have a driver's license so that we could...
SANCHEZ: Sunburned with blank stares behind bloodshot eyes, these parents are unsure about a lot of things except one: Their children must absolutely return to school. So they've come to this cafeteria in an old school building at the end of a narrow dirt road next to the Lafayette Airport. Middle-aged men in T-shirts huddle next to their wives. Together they fill out several forms and wait to be interviewed by school counselors, who try to be both friendly and thorough.
Unidentified Woman #2: We'll go over this. OK, we have completed this right--these forms right here for transportation. You will have transportation. This right here, you will be provided the lunches, breakfast. This right here is the registration form. Hopefully, we can accommodate these courses. That would take care of it. This weekend you should hear from us.
Unidentified Woman #3: OK. Thank you very much.
Unidentified Woman #2: Good luck.
SANCHEZ: Although the Louisiana Department of Education has recovered many displaced students' school records--a basic profile of each child, grades, test scores and transcripts--there's a lot teachers won't know about these kids or their parents. School counselors look for signs of stress among parents in particular, the kind of stress that could complicate their kids' ability to adapt to their new school. Donna and Kenneth Arustegee(ph) seem relieved that their two boys will start school on Monday, but they look so, so tired.
Mrs. DONNA ARUSTEGEE: Coming from St. Tammany Parish, Slidell, we were right by the lake, and we were...
Mr. KENNETH ARUSTEGEE: Had eight--about eight feet of water, and a tree hit our house, so we have no home. Have two boys, a 16-year-old, an eight-year-old, and we're try to get them in school right now, trying to get them back rolling, trying to get going again with life. That's all, you know. I mean, that's what's happening with us right now, you know.
SANCHEZ: At the end of a long table, David Frate(ph) and his wife, Shireen(ph), are registering their three-year-old daughter in pre-K, but their minds are elsewhere.
Mr. DAVID FRATE: So you end up constantly trying to rebuild and regain stuff that you lost, you know.
Mrs. SHIREEN FRATE: It hurts. It hurts. It really do hurt, because me, myself, I mean, I'm still hurt about it.
SANCHEZ: Across the room, the Cabrera-Lasilla(ph) family is registering two children.
Ms. MARIA LASILLA(ph): (Spanish spoken)
Unidentified Man #2: (Spanish spoken)
SANCHEZ: `There are no schools to go back to in St. Bernard Parish,' says Maria Lasilla, `and our house in underwater.'
Pat Nutrabauer(ph), a counselor, says just listening to these families day after day has been too much to bear.
Ms. PAT NUTRABAUER (Counselor): Yes, it has been. It has been. I have gone home and cried. Cried here. It's been very moving. Some have--does not have anyone, no relatives, no friends here. Couple of said that they have lost family members.
SANCHEZ: Veteran counselors are beginning to feel compassion fatigue syndrome. Lafayette businesses, meanwhile, have donated $10,000 thus far to buy school uniforms and school supplies. There are rooms filled with piles and piles of new clothes, khaki and navy blue pants, red, white and blue tops. In the hallways, boxes are filled with shoes and backpacks. Next Monday, the first day of school for displaced students, school buses will have new routes to run, from the Cajundome, the city's convention center, where many families are staying, to hotels and even a few homeless shelters. Claudio Sanchez, NPR News, Lafayette, Louisiana.
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