Displaced Students on the Future of New Orleans

Steve Inskeep visits Archbishop Rummel High School in Metairie, La., to talk with displaced students about what lies ahead for New Orleans. Many of the city's leaders have come from its Catholic schools, and these students been told much of the rebuilding effort will ultimately rest on their shoulders.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And now we'll hear from the leaders of tomorrow. The schools here in New Orleans are still closed, both the public schools and the Catholic schools that educate about half this city's children, including many of its elites. This week, we visited a suburban school that is making room for students who have nowhere else to go.

(Soundbite of school assembly)

Mr. MICHAEL BEGG (President, Archbishop Rummel High): ...Martin, sophomore. Brother Martin, sophomore.

Unidentified Man: Right here.

INSKEEP: The students crowded the gymnasium at Archbishop Rummel High.

Unidentified Woman: First set of the alphabet is ...(unintelligible)

INSKEEP: School President Michael Begg told these mostly college-bound students that New Orleans depends on them.

(Soundbite of school assembly)

Mr. BEGG: We also believe, if there's anything that's going to revitalize our area, it is going to be you.

INSKEEP: Michael Begg was looking across a room erupting with the uniforms of different schools, blue sweaters, brown sweaters, grey skirts, white shirts all tucked in. Normally Archbishop Rummel High School has 1,300 boys. They'll now attend class in the morning. Michael Begg says they will clear out for an afternoon session to accommodate more than 1,600 new arrivals, mostly girls.

Mr. BEGG: It's going to be very difficult to get the Archbishop Rummel High School boys off campus at 12:30 when the afternoon shift comes on at 1:00.

INSKEEP: (Laughs)

Mr. BEGG: That's going to be an incredible task for us. FEMA might have to come out here for that, so...

(Soundbite of a marching band practice)

Group of Students: One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.

INSKEEP: The Rummel High School marching band is practicing within sight of an office tower that lost many windows in the storm. That's just one of the signs of the way the hurricane affected New Orleans. Nancy Hernandez, the principal for the temporary students, noticed another sign. Many of New Orleans parochial school students haven't been heard from yet.

Ms. NANCY HERNANDEZ (School Principal): You didn't see a lot of diversity here, and that's been a question among all of us over last two weeks. Where are our minority students? You know, why are they not coming back into the city? But this is not typical. This is not what a typical New Orleans high school looks like.

INSKEEP: New Orleans' parochial schools are normally about 20 percent minority, and Hernandez hopes they will be again. Many of the students who did show up have returned after spending weeks out of town. Now they're trading rumors about changes to the music festivals that define their city.

Unidentified Student #1: ...taking away Jazz Fest in ...(unintelligible).

Unidentified Student #2: Yeah, I know.

Unidentified Student #1: And those are our cultures. And Las Vegas tried to buy Mardi Gras from us.

INSKEEP: We sat down to talk with a group of seniors. You might think their experience as evacuees would make some want to move away, but being on the road just made Jenny Collatta(ph) want to come home.

JENNY COLLATTA (Student): I've always talked about going out of state for college, and now, like, after realizing how much I miss my home and, like, everything around me, I've really been thinking of just staying in state and going to LSU.

INSKEEP: Of the 13 people we have here now, how many people were planning to go to college? Everybody has raised their hand. Of the 13 people here, how many people evacuated twice? One, two, three of you.

Unidentified Student #3: ...(Unintelligible)

INSKEEP: What do you guys think that you have learned from that experience?

COURTNEY COLLATTA(ph) (Student): I'm Courtney Collatta. Last year, like, if something would happen, like a tsunami, and, like--we'd, like, hear about it on the news and then, like, in class, talking about it for, like, day or two and then, like, move on with our regular lives and, like, it doesn't really affect us. And, like, this time is was us, and it's just so weird to think that we were never on this side. And so I thought that's just absolutely the weird part of it.

INSKEEP: In the assembly, you were told that to some degree, you are the people who are going to rebuild New Orleans. That's a heavy thing to be laid you on the first day of school.

JASON (Student): I'm Jason. I really don't think it is a big deal because I love the city, and if it takes me and my sweat and my elbow grease to rebuild it, I will do it. I don't--and OK, I know my friend James here, he loves it more than I do. He's just a diehard. I know along with him, we'll both put all our energy into rebuilding. It doesn't matter.

INSKEEP: James, you seem to be getting committed to an awful lot of construction work there.

JAMES OERTER(ph) (Student): Yeah. I'm James Oerter, and New Orleans goes through a lot, and it had to deal with a lot, and no matter what happens to it, the diehard people and the people who love the city, who really love it, will always come back and will always rebuild it just because there's no place else they'd rather live.

INSKEEP: You can expect that some of these student at Archbishop Rummel High School will help to make this city whatever it becomes next.

(Soundbite of a marching band practice)

Unidentified Student: One, two, two, two, two, two!

(Soundbite of marching band music)

RENEE MONTAGNE (Host): From NPR News, this is MORNING EDITION.

(Credits)

MONTAGNE: I'm Renee Montagne in Washington.

INSKEEP: And I'm Steve Inskeep in New Orleans.

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