High School Students Return to New Orleans — Alone
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Hundreds of teens have returned alone to New Orleans to finish high school with friends. For parents that can be a scary decision, and school officials say they lack of supervision is causing problems.
Katia Dunn reports.
(Soundbite of cheering)
KATIA DUNN: It's Friday at Edna Karr High School in the Algiers neighborhood, and the administration has organized a volleyball game: faculty versus students. The students are winning. Senior Alvin Davis has appointed himself coach of the student's team.
Mr. ALVIN DAVIS (Senior, Edna Karr High School): If they score again, you're going to get in, you're going to get in, and you're going to get in.
DUNN: Davis is 18, but he's such a natural leader, he can pass himself off as the actual coach. Part of the reason he's so at ease is that he's been going to school with these kids since he was in seventh-grade.
Mr. Davis: You can't trade in friends you've been having since, you know, knee-high for anybody else or anywhere else. So I will not go to any other high school. I refuse to graduate from anywhere else. So since it's something I want that bad, I'm going to do pretty much whatever it takes to be happy.
DUNN: One thing it took was, as he put it, begging and acting depressed until his parents agreed to let him come back without them. In August, he moved into a crowded FEMA trailer with his best friend, Jeremiah, and his family. After the storm, Davis and his family moved a couple times, first to Arkansas and then to Baker, Louisiana. He tried new schools and didn't like them.
He's lucky that his parents are only an hour and a half away now. He's able to go home often on weekends. He says they were reluctant to let him go, but they knew how important it was to him to finish high school with his friends.
Davis isn't the only teenager in this situation. School officials estimate there are 75 of them in this high school and hundreds across the city. Erica Boyd is also a senior at Karr.
Ms. ERICA BOYD (Senior, Edna Karr High School): I've was used to wearing a uniform. So every school in Houston didn't have uniforms so you had to buy clothes to wear to school, or whatever. So they would wear heels and skirts. It's just school, like that's not us.
DUNN: Like Davis, Boyd lives with her best friend's family now. Other students have moved in with relatives, and some - no one knows how many - are living in the city unsupervised. Not all students are handling independence as well as Davis and Boyd seem to be. School officials say there are more fights. Discipline is a huge problem; teachers can spend way too much time dealing with kids who are talking back or refusing to heed authority.
Mr. DAVID GRUBB (Director of Communications, Algiers Charter Schools Association): They don't really have someone at home to either set their boundaries, or reinforce what's going on in the schools.
DUNN: David Grubb is the director of communications for Algiers Charter School Association. He says there are also legal issues. Administrators don't know who to call in emergencies, or for questions about medical history. No one can sign registrations forms. Parent/teacher conferences or signatures on report cards are suddenly huge obstacles.
Edna Metcalf is a social worker at the school. She says, in addition to the challenges of the living independently, many of these students are still dealing with the emotional aftermath of the storm.
Ms. EDNA METCALF (Social Worker, Edna Karr High School): The kids are just -they're just in so much need of help. I mean they really are. I say it all the time, I could use five full-time social workers here. I mean, easily.
DUNN: The separation takes its toll on parents too. I called Erica Boyd's mom, Tammy Hawkins, who's now in Georgia. She said she agonized over the decision to let Erica go, but Hawkins thought it would be easier than watching her daughter moping around every day.
Ms. TAMMY HAWKINS (Erica Boyd's Mother): I knew it was really important to her because of her personality, the kind of child she is. She doesn't adjust well to new environments.
DUNN: still, Hawkins feels like she's missing out on too big a part of her daughter's life. And if she had to do it over again, she says, she wouldn't let Erica go.
Katia Dunn, NPR News, New Orleans.
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