New Orleans School Devastated By Katrina Reopens After Hurricane Katrina flooded its lower level, Wilson Elementary School sat abandoned and crumbling for months. Then community organizers convinced officials to spend $30 million to rebuild. On Jan. 4, the newly rebuilt school will open its doors.
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New Orleans School Devastated By Katrina Reopens

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New Orleans School Devastated By Katrina Reopens

New Orleans School Devastated By Katrina Reopens

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

And now we take you to New Orleans and another group of people who have been waiting on a rebuilding project. Hurricane Katrina closed most of the city's schools for an entire year. Many buildings were destroyed or had to be abandoned, including Andrew Wilson Elementary School in the area known as Broadmoor.

But early next year, a beautiful new school will open its doors to this recovering neighborhood. NPR's Larry Abramson got a sneak peek with the teachers and has this postcard from New Orleans.

(Soundbite of footsteps)

LARRY ABRAMSON: Three years ago, neighborhood organizer LaToya Cantrell showed me around the old Wilson Elementary. Katrina had flooded its lower level, then the school sat abandoned for months and was crumbling. Truth is: this once-grand edifice was neglected before the storm, and it was not known for high achievement. Cantrell vowed to rebuild the school and its reputation.

Ms. LATOYA CANTRELL: Regardless of who the babies are in the classroom, quality learning will happen.

Ms. SHEILA THOMAS (Principal, Wilson Elementary School): Y'all move up so I don't have to shout, okay?

ABRAMSON: Nearly three years later, the dream has been fulfilled. Wilson Elementary has been rebuilt, complete with a huge addition. A couple of weeks ago, Principal Sheila Thomas welcomed teachers to their new home.

Ms. THOMAS: I wanted to have wine and cheese, but I knew just as sure as I brought wine into the building, that we'd lose our charter next week so.

ABRAMSON: Two years ago, Thomas came out of retirement to head Wilson Elementary at its temporary home a few miles away. In the meantime, local activists waged the fight of their lives. They convinced state, local and federal authorities to spend millions rehabbing Wilson. They turned the stately but tired building into a dream of a school � light-filled, high tech, souped up with all sorts of ecological features.

For teachers like Gwindalyn Bellizan, it's a miracle.

Ms. GWINDALYN BELLIZAN (Teacher, Wilson Elementary School): It's overwhelming, it's very overwhelming to see what they could take from a very antiquated building and bring it up to speed with the green plan.

ABRAMSON: So, do you know where your room's going to be?

Ms. BELLIZAN: Oh yeah. Believe it or not, my original room is going to be my room here again.

Unidentified Woman: To LaToya or it wouldn't have happened.

(Soundbite of applause)

ABRAMSON: Teachers and staff toast LaToya Cantrell, the woman who spearheaded this effort. They raise their plastic glasses of sparking cider and dig into a green and gold cake that salutes their recent designation as a high-achieving school. Then teachers scurry off to check out their new classrooms, where the paint still sparkles and the furniture is free of little fingerprints, for now.

Larry Abramson, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

WERTHEIMER: This is NPR News.

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