Teen Life Left Adrift After Katrina It's been almost three months since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, destroying homes and businesses, and displacing hundreds of thousands of people. Teen-agers who have been uprooted face unique challenges. They are trying to fit into new schools and don't know what will happen to their ambitions to go to college. They wonder whether the closely held traditions will continue: the prom, the yearbook, the school ring. They've been separated from their best friends, and in many cases, their parents and family. A talk about how teens are coping with disaster.
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Teen Life Left Adrift After Katrina

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Teen Life Left Adrift After Katrina

Teen Life Left Adrift After Katrina

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.


And I'm Liane Hansen.

It's been almost three months since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, destroying homes, businesses and displacing hundreds of thousands of people. Families were separated. Some have reunited. Many have relocated with no plans to return. Others are aching to go back to the places they once called home. Teen-agers who have been uprooted face unique challenges. They're trying to fit in to new schools and don't know what will happen, to their ambitions to go to colleges. They wonder whether the closely-held traditions will continue: the prom, the yearbook, the school ring. They've been separated from their best friends and, in many cases, their parents and family. Many of them are also dealing with the trauma of seeing their homes destroyed, as well as the memories of their own evacuations and experiences during the deadly storm.

CONAN: Later in the program, what about the animals of Katrina? We'll talk with the editors of Bark magazine about Katrina survivors and their pets.

HANSEN: But first, teens and Katrina. If you're a teen-ager who survived Katrina or the parents of teen-agers or if you work with teens who survived the hurricane, we'd like to hear from you. How has the experience changed them? What issues are they struggling with? How are they overcoming it or are they? Our number here in Washington is (800) 989-8255. That's (800) 989-TALK. And our e-mail address is totn@npr.org.

The Greater Houston Area schools have absorbed over 20,000 students who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Ashley Nelson is a senior at Sharpstown High School in Houston, Texas, and she joins us by phone from her grandmother's house. Ashley, thanks a lot for taking the time to talk to us today.

ASHLEY NELSON (Student): No. Thank y'all for talking to me.

HANSEN: All right. Well, before we talk about what your life is like in Houston, tell us a little bit about your old high school in New Orleans. How big was it? What'd you like about it?

NELSON: Well, my old high school in New Orleans, I mean, a lot of people wouldn't say it was much, but, I mean, I love my high school because all my friends was there. It was just everybody--I mean, you knew everybody there. It was just fun. I mean, I'd go to school--I used to go to school and just have fun. Now I go to school and I'm like--I feel like an outcast. I feel...

HANSEN: You feel like you...

NELSON: ...like I don't belong there.

HANSEN: You feel like an outcast. In what way?

NELSON: Because, I mean, I don't know anybody I mean, it was just--it's not the same. I mean, my friends are all scattered around. Like I heard a few of my friends are in Atlanta. Some of my friends are in California, some in Houston. It's just not the same.

HANSEN: Yeah. Yeah. Your old school was predominantly black, right?


HANSEN: And this new school is mixed and segregated...


HANSEN: ...so that's a big difference.

NELSON: Yeah. It's a huge difference. I mean, not in a bad way, though, because I really appreciate it. I mean, I get to learn about Africa. I mean, I talk to the students from Africa. I never, ever talked to anybody from Africa in New Orleans. You know, it's just--because it's us. You know, it was like we're a family in New Orleans and everybody is like everybody. But like down here, you meet people who's traveled all--to Nigeria and meet people from Mexico and other places in Latin America. I mean, it's tight, but, I mean, I still miss my home.

CONAN: Well, Ashley, this is Neal. When you say the new school is segregated, what do you mean by that?

NELSON: What--no, no, I meant my other--I meant the schools in New Orleans was segregated.

CONAN: Ahh, I see.

HANSEN: Ahh, not your school that you're in now.

NELSON: Right.

HANSEN: Have you been able to make friends there?

NELSON: A few. I mean, not many, a few.

HANSEN: Yeah. It must be tough coming in as a senior, too, because...

NELSON: Yeah. Like that's what I think about, is I'm not even going to have a prom...

HANSEN: You're not going to have a prom.

NELSON: ...with my friends.

HANSEN: Not even--not with your friends.

NELSON: Not all my friends. And we--that's all we talked about, like our 19--in the 11 grade year about how we was going to rent a big ol' car and we all was going to ride to the prom together and, like, now I don't even know where half of them are.

HANSEN: Yeah. There are about 50 students from New Orleans there at Sharpstown with you?

NELSON: Yeah, about--well, it's possibly more, but, I mean, I really don't know.

HANSEN: Yeah. Does it make it any easier for you to know that there's people that are in the same boat?

NELSON: Well, not make it easier. It helps some. I don't feel all--you know, I--at least I'm not like an outcast by myself. At least I can have people to talk to, you know.

HANSEN: Yeah. How are your classes going?

NELSON: They're all right. Fine.

HANSEN: How do they compare to your old school?

NELSON: Well, in my old school, I didn't have many classes because I was a senior, and at this school, I have, like, extra classes because, like, Texas have different requirements than Louisiana to graduate.

HANSEN: So is it a little bit harder for you?

NELSON: Not even harder. It's just--I have to take extra classes.

HANSEN: Yeah. Have you been able to go back to New Orleans?

NELSON: I've been back a couple of times.


NELSON: I just--I feel like I have to keep seeing it to believe it, because I don't even believe it.

HANSEN: Yeah. Do you know if your school in New Orleans is going to reopen?

NELSON: I've heard--but, I mean, I really don't know. I've heard it was going to open up in January.

HANSEN: Yeah. And if it does, you'd like to go back?

NELSON: I would love to go back.

HANSEN: Yeah. Are you able to get involved at all in--what about, like, after-school activities or sports, clubs--that kind of thing?

NELSON: No. Right now, I'm working. After school, I go to work every day.

HANSEN: Yeah. Well, where do you want to go to college? Do you want to go?

NELSON: Yeah, I want to go to college. I'm really not sure yet, but I would love to go to college.


NELSON: It's like number one on my list.

HANSEN: And is this transition making it harder for you?

NELSON: Yes. It is.


NELSON: It is.

HANSEN: Explain how.

NELSON: Because, I mean, right--I wanted to go to college in Louisiana, and I'm like--I really don't know if that's going to be possible right now...


NELSON: ...because of everything that's going on, and I don't know how the colleges going to, you know, set back up. It's just so hard right now.

HANSEN: Yeah. How are you coping? How are you able to get through your day?

NELSON: I write.

HANSEN: You do?

NELSON: I try to write.

HANSEN: What are some of the things you've been writing?

NELSON: I've just been writing--well, I don't even have any of my pieces. I should have brought some. But, I mean, I just write how I feel every day. I try to write how I feel so that I can understand it, because everything right now is not making sense to me.

HANSEN: Yeah, because you feel like you're out of your element.


HANSEN: Yeah. Are you in touch with your family?

NELSON: Yeah. I talk to them all the time. I need to talk to them.

HANSEN: I bet. And what kind of advice are they giving you, I mean, you know, other than...

NELSON: They just tell me keep writing, keep writing, because the writing helps.

HANSEN: Helps get all those emotions out that you're feeling. Do you get together with the other kids that are there from New Orleans and sort of talk about your experiences?

NELSON: Yeah. We sit down and joke around all the time. We don't really too much talk about what happened in New Orleans, because of--I don't know--it just makes the temperature drop. Everybody gets all sad and stuff, so we just try to, you know, crack jokes and have fun and make the best of the time in Texas.

HANSEN: Well, we wish you a lot of luck, Ashley.

NELSON: Thank you.

HANSEN: Ashley Nelson is a senior at Sharpstown High School in Houston, Texas, and she was evacuated from New Orleans, and she's completing her high school education in Houston, Texas.

CONAN: If you're a teen-ager who was evacuated from the Gulf Coast, if you know one, if you're the parent of one, if you're living with one or maybe teaching one, give us a phone call, (800) 989-8255. That's (800) 989-TALK. E-mail us, totn@npr.org.

Joining us now is Dr. Herb Mandell. He's a child psychiatrist and medical director for KidsPeace and the KidsPeace Children's Hospital, an intensive program to help children overcome severe emotional traumas. And he joins us now by phone from his office in Orefield, Pennsylvania. Nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION.

Dr. HERB MANDELL (KidsPeace): My pleasure, Neal, Liane. Hello, Ashley.

CONAN: Ashley's left us actually, but I wonder, as you listen to her story, does that seem unusual that--you could almost hear the loneliness in her voice.

Dr. MANDELL: Not at all. I think it's probably fairly typical. I mean, here's a kid who was getting ready to graduate from high school. That is, you know, a leap that everybody has to make when they reach the age of 17 or 18, whether they're going on to college or the military or whatever they're going to be doing after their high school years. It involves separation from the family, assumption of what'd probably be closer to your full identity, breaking away from your parents and, you know, being exposed to the full range of things in our society, including drugs and sexuality and everything else.

And at the very time that she's trying to negotiate one of the toughest things that an adolescent needs to do, she is then faced with this terrible catastrophe and evacuation and, you know, she tells us that she feels lonely and sad and felt like an outcast initially, lost a lot of her friends, at least from a physical distance, is in a different group racially and otherwise, and at the same time, you're hearing about a lot of strength that this young lady has. She loves to write. She writes specifically about her feelings. She's able to communicate, you know, what's going on with her. She's trying to get involved in some activities, and she's well aware of the fact that she needs to satisfy different requirements in the state of Texas than she would have back in Louisiana. So I think probably she represents what a lot of kids are dealing with.

CONAN: It's almost like, in some ways--particularly as she's saying, in her senior years, it's almost like an extra punishment.

Dr. MANDELL: Yeah, it's certainly the worst natural disaster we've had to deal with in this country and, in many respects, is a public health issue at this point.

CONAN: Are we right to be concerned about the mental health of teen-agers evacuated as a result of the hurricane?

Dr. MANDELL: I think we are. I mean, we want to be careful not to pathologize or jump to conclusions that they're all going to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, because they're not, or that they're all going to become depressed or, you know, non-functional citizens or something like that. Kids, by nature, are extremely resilient. But let's bear in mind that the same percentage is applied to the kids from New Orleans as anywhere else, so 1 percent probably would be schizophrenic or close to it, perhaps another percent bipolar, another 4 percent somewhere in the bipolar spectrum, and a lot of the kids would be just naturally dealing with typical adolescent issues. All of these mental health issues will become much more intense because of the trauma that the kids underwent, and kids who never had any kind of psychiatric or emotional issues certainly will have tremendous barriers to jump.

HANSEN: Dr. Mandell, this is Liane. Do you think there's a difference in the way that a senior in high school who's been transplanted in--how they have to cope as opposed to, say, someone who is going in as a freshman?

Dr. MANDELL: I think there might even be almost a qualitative difference, because the changes, as I said, in the senior year are so great and the hurdles are so intense anyway for seniors that to lay this on top of it really is a double or a triple stress on them. Absolutely.

CONAN: We're going to take a short break. Dr. Mandell will stay with us, and we'll be talking with another student evacuated as a result of Katrina and with a staff writer for The New Orleans Times-Picayune, who's been following the--well, what's happened to children who have left her town and relocated elsewhere. Well, her own daughter's in school, too. Join us if you'd like, (800) 989-8255. That's (800) 989-TALK. You can also send us e-mail, totn@npr.org.

I'm Neal Conan.

HANSEN: And I'm Liane Hansen. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

HANSEN: And I'm Liane Hansen.

We're talking today with teen-agers affected by Hurricane Katrina, and we want your stories. If you're a teen from the Gulf Coast, give us a call, or if you're a teacher or a parent with a story, our number is 1 (800) 989-TALK. Our e-mail is totn@npr.org.

Still with us is Dr. Herb Mandell. He's a child psychiatrist and a medical director for KidsPeace and the KidsPeace Children's Hospital in Orefield, Pennsylvania.

CONAN: And let's get a caller on the line. This is Carrie. Carrie joining us from Bend, Oregon. Hello, Carrie? Carrie is apparently not there. We'll try someone else then. Let's go with Mike. Mike calling us from Little Rock.

MIKE (Caller): Yes.

CONAN: Hi, Mike. You're on the air.

MIKE: Oh, good afternoon.

CONAN: Good afternoon.

MIKE: Well, I've been a middle school teacher for a few years in Little Rock, and we've received--we're in a small private school. And we've had 12 of the evacuees come into our school. And I know early on when they first came in, it was--you know, a lot of them seemed to have a state of shock and, of course, you know, you would expect that, but they really adjusted well. I was shocked that they adjusted so well. And, you know, I think a couple of them, you know, acted out a little bit when, you know--probably just nervous, new school, you know, new conditions, a little stressed out about the whole situation. But I've just been amazed at how well they fit in and how well they're adjusting.

Some of them are staying in Little Rock. Some of them, I think, are going to go back as soon as they, you know, are able to. But they've been back--most of them have gone back at some point to just see what was left and, you know, that's always kind of an anxious time for us because we were wondering, you know, what are they going to experience? How are they going to feel when they come back? And, you know, one of the students in an English class wrote a paper about his life and, of course, he really focused on the whole incident, and he mentioned in his paper that his little brothers and sisters, they were asking, you know, `Mommy and Daddy, when are we going to go back home?,' you know, and they said, `We're not going to go back home.' `Well, when are we going to get our stuff?' And that's when they--the family just sort of broke down and said, you know, there's nothing to get. And so it's been sort of a roller coaster of emotions, as you might imagine, but overall, you know, these kids have been just incredibly resilient.

HANSEN: Mike, this is Liane. I wanted to know what kind of effort did the students make that are already in your school to make these evacuees feel welcome?

MIKE: Well, a lot, and it's almost like they took them on as buddies, if you will. You know, we encourage that anyway, but they have just gone out of their way to--you know, to spend time with them at recess, for example, to play ball with them, to making sure they've got their assignments. And our own--I guess our own kids have just gone out of their way. Even though, you know, our kids--they really don't know what it was like. They've only seen the pictures and so forth, but still, I think we all felt it; you know, especially Little Rock, we're--I think we feel like we're close to New Orleans in a way, and we've seen a lot of evacuees, and they've done an excellent job. I'm very proud of our students.

CONAN: Yeah. Dr. Mandell, we always hear about the resiliency of kids. Mike was referring to it, and I guess we shouldn't be surprised, but acting out, too.

Dr. MANDELL: Yes. It sounds like those kids were very fortunate. I mean, you have to think about what the kids come there with in terms of their own family strengths or personal strengths, any issues that they have. But this sounds like it has been a tremendously caring and supportive community and, you know, that's going to bode very well for their longer-term outcome as opposed to, say, a community where the child actually does feel like an outcast or where there are real divisions, say, between the kids who were there previously and the kids who were evacuated.

CONAN: Mike, thanks very much for the call.

MIKE: Thank you.

CONAN: And good luck and wish all your kids, if there's still time, to have a happy Thanksgiving.

MIKE: I sure will. Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

HANSEN: We're going to bring another teen-ager into the discussion. Maria Hernandez(ph) is another student who was displaced from New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit. She's now attending Union High School as a senior in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and she's on the phone from her home there. Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION, Maria.

MARIA HERNANDEZ (Student): Thank you.

HANSEN: So how are things going for you in your new school?

HERNANDEZ: They're going pretty good.

HANSEN: Yeah. Compared--explain. What do you mean by `good'?

HERNANDEZ: You know, I expected to be the odd man out when I first started coming to this school. I was real worried, because in my school, where I attended at Douglas, we were like a clique. It was me and my friends, and we didn't really accept outsiders like...

HANSEN: Ahh. So when you ended up going to Tulsa, you ended up feeling like an outsider.

HERNANDEZ: Yeah. I felt like an outsider. You know, people and kids were trying to bring me into their groups, but I really couldn't relate to any of them, you know. We have totally different lifestyles.

HANSEN: Yeah. I understand your whole family went to Douglass High School.

HERNANDEZ: Yeah. It was, like, my big brother went, my sister went, and I'm going. I'm the third generation.

HANSEN: Yeah. But you're not there. You must think about that a lot.


HANSEN: What do you miss?

HERNANDEZ: I miss--mostly, I miss my friends. I miss my teachers, you know, the surroundings. It felt like a family, the whole school, you know. I knew everybody.

HANSEN: Yeah. I understand you had already bought a prom dress.

HERNANDEZ: Yeah. We--me and my friends, we had our dresses, our heels. We were--all had our dates. We were planning it. We've been planning since 11th grade.

HANSEN: And the idea of getting a school ring from the school where your whole family went...

HERNANDEZ: Yeah. My best friend--one of my best friends is getting the Douglass ring, even though she's not at Douglass anymore, and I was thinking, maybe I should do that, but if I graduate from another school, would that be right?

HANSEN: Yeah. How are your classes going? Is it harder, easier?

HERNANDEZ: It's not harder, because I'm--always been an advanced student, but it's kind of difficult when you come in a month later into the school and...

HANSEN: Yeah, every difficult to catch up.


HANSEN: Yeah. How did you end up in Tulsa?

HERNANDEZ: We were bused in from the Superdome.

HANSEN: You spent time in the Superdome.

HERNANDEZ: Yeah. I spent a week in the Superdome.

HANSEN: Oh, what was that like for you?

HERNANDEZ: It was not nice.

HANSEN: No. What did you experience?

HERNANDEZ: I experienced a lot. I saw dead people, you know. I saw people fighting over water. I saw people stealing blankets for little children. You know, we were trying to--it was survival of the strongest, I guess.

CONAN: I wonder, looking at the two high schools that you went to, Douglass in New Orleans and now your new school in Tulsa, is the culture there the same? I mean, do people listen to the same kind of music, wear the same kind of clothes, that sort of stuff?

HERNANDEZ: Not really. Here, like, boys wear pants, I would say, almost tighter than the girls.


HERNANDEZ: Yeah. And their shirts are real tight on their body, but in New Orleans, you know, boys wear the baggy pants, you know, the extra-large T-shirts, you know, and actually, yeah, it's a big difference.


CONAN: Any tensions between the kids from New Orleans and the kids there from Tulsa?

HERNANDEZ: No, not here, but I hear in Texas, there is.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Word gets around, I guess.

HERNANDEZ: Yeah, word does get around, you know, when you're stretching that out to everybody you know and you found we're all spread out so far.

HANSEN: Are you getting involved in any of the activities in your new school?

HERNANDEZ: No, I was trying to get involved with softball, but something happened, and I didn't get the tryout date right or...

CONAN: So what are you going to be doing for Thanksgiving?

HERNANDEZ: I'm going to go see my niece in Shreveport.

CONAN: So at least be with some family.


CONAN: All right. Maria, thanks very much and have a happy holiday.

HERNANDEZ: Thank you.

CONAN: Maria Hernandez is a senior at Union High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and joined us by phone from her home.

And, Dr. Mandell, the holidays just have to, you know, exacerbate all of these problems.

Dr. MANDELL: It's a tough time for many Americans at holiday time, especially when there are family issues, and certainly after a disaster like this, it's going to be really hard on these evacuated families from New Orleans, particularly if they're separated from each other. But this young lady is fascinating to listen to. On the one hand, she's talking about the things that all teen-agers are interested in--the prom, her friends, family, college and her school ring and softball--and then she comes back, when you press her for a little more detail and she's suddenly talking about having seen dead people and people stealing blankets and some of the incredibly traumatic and very disturbing material that she's been through, a terrible experience.

And, you know, we have to hope that she had someone to speak to--probably she did, because she sounds like she sounds like she's handling it really well--to get some of this stuff off her chest, because that is very heavy stuff to be exposed to if you're someone at any age and certainly if you're a young child or a teen-ager. Again, the average person would respond to that level of trauma with probably a few weeks of having some trouble concentrating, maybe having some difficulty with eating or sleeping, some anxiety, maybe a little bit of withdrawal, but when this persists over a period of weeks to months, then we begin to think about the need for some professional intervention with someone from the mental health community. And again, in the interim, we're hoping that school counselors and others are able to--and certainly family members are able to satisfy most of these kids' needs.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. This is Michael. Michael with us from Newark, California.

MICHAEL (Caller): Hi there.

CONAN: Hi, Michael.

MICHAEL: Hi. I'm a middle school teacher in Newark, California, and I have--it's a public school. We have one evacuee from New Orleans. She's a seventh grader, so she's already going through the trauma, or not necessarily trauma, but difference between going from elementary to middle school, compounded with then being sent across the country to live with her mom.

CONAN: And how's she doing?

MICHAEL: She's an excellent student academically, but she's extremely withdrawn, very, very lonely. She was able to leave last Friday. Her father finally got enough money together to bring her back home for Thanksgiving, but then she'll be back next Monday in Newark again.

HANSEN: And...

MICHAEL: But it's very hard for her. I think she's got one friend.

HANSEN: Yeah. And--but she's the only one there?

MICHAEL: She's the only one our school has. We've got--it's a public school, so don't have the resources that the previous gentleman was talking about.

HANSEN: Well, thanks a lot, Michael, for your call.


CONAN: And good luck.

MICHAEL: Well, thank you.

HANSEN: Dr. Mandell, I want to ask you, a lot of these teens have been separated from their parents and their family, and we know a lot about teen-agers and risk behaviors. What do we know about teen behavior when they're actually separated from their parents and their families?

Dr. MANDELL: Well, I mean, a lot depends on who they're with and what kind of supervision and love they're getting. Again, the first thing you want to make sure is that the child is well--or teen-ager is well-supervised and feels that TLC coming at them from all angles. And, I mean, the state of Texas has been marvelous in opening up its arms, you know, in terms of the resources in the schools and shelter for kids. How many kids?--I think it's 20,000 currently in the Houston area from Louisiana. Beyond that, of course, it's incumbent on us, now that we've accepted these kids into different places, to make sure that, having undergone the worst natural disaster ever to hit our country, that they're not revictimized by, you know, being perceived as part of another group or ill-treated by the other kids, or that faculty or the staff in schools, whoever else is working with them, don't feel overwhelmed. That's really, really important. And I think it's something as a nation that we owe these kids.

HANSEN: Dr. Herb Mandell is a child psychiatrist and medical director for KidsPeace and the KidsPeace Children's Hospital. He joined us by phone from his office in Orefield, Pennsylvania.

Thanks for your time.

Dr. MANDELL: My pleasure.

CONAN: And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Barrie Bronson is a staff writer for the New Orleans Times-Picayune and she's been talking to a lot of teen-agers from New Orleans about the changes. She joins us now by phone from her office in New Orleans.

Good of you to be with us today.

Ms. BARRIE BRONSON (New Orleans Times-Picayune): Thank you. I appreciate being here.

CONAN: You've been writing specifically about the difficulties that high school seniors--and we've talked to one of them--are facing. And, you know, beyond, you know, the dislocation, the prom and all of the expectations of--it's a very social year, senior year.

Ms. BRONSON: It really is, and I think for a lot of these kids, you know, friends are the most important thing to these kids, more so in a lot of cases than their own families. And, you know, these kids, many of them, who've grown up together or at least started high school together are now separated and scattered across the country. And fortunately, you know, with the Internet, there's a lot of ways to keep in touch with one another, but it's not the same as being in your own familiar school and what you know. And most of the kids that I've interviewed--and I really have come across this, you know, almost across the board. Even when kids are doing well at their new schools, they miss being home and they really want to be back in their old schools.

HANSEN: Barrie, this is Liane. I understand you act--you have--your own daughter has had to...


HANSEN: ...start a new school in Houston because of the hurricane.

Ms. BRONSON: Exactly. She's 14. She's a freshman and had just started her school here in New Orleans. She had been there for seven days and just loved the school. And so that was--you know, the storm took that away from her, as it did with so many other kids. And she's now in school in Houston and is doing OK. She's doing fine. But it's not her school. I don't think she has allowed herself to become emotionally attached to it, because she knows she's coming home at the end of the semester. And I think we're going to see a huge influx of kids at--I think for most schools--for a lot of schools this semester ends December 16th; I think for some schools it ends in January. But I think there are large numbers of kids that are going to be coming back, which is a very good thing for the city.

HANSEN: Well, what about the schools? Are they ready?

Ms. BRONSON: Yeah. The schools are--there are some public schools that will be opening. Obviously, we don't need the number of schools that we needed before, because there are some--well, some schools have been pretty much destroyed. And then just the sheer numbers--while there will be a lot of kids coming back, there will obviously be many, many kids who don't. So there are many schools, between the parochial schools, the private schools and the public schools, that will be opening. In Jefferson Parish, which is--which actually had its own share of flood damage, which is right next door to Orleans Parish, the schools are open, for the most part. So you have a lot of kids that might live in New Orleans that might go--when they come back to New Orleans, they'll go to school in one of the outlying parishes.

So--but as far as the schools in Orleans Parish, my daughter's school, which is Benjamin Franklin High School, a big magnet school here in town, is set to open January 17th, and they're expecting, I think, somewhere in the neighborhood of about 500 kids to come back, and that's out of between--I'm not sure of the total number, but between 900 and a thousand.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get a quick call in before the break.

Ms. BRONSON: Sure.

CONAN: Bill--Bill's calling from Charlotte, North Carolina.

BILL (Caller): Yes, hi. Thank you for taking my call. The young people you talked to all seemed very intelligent and academically gifted. It reminds me of a situation. A friend of mine was transferred a couple years ago. His daughter, who was a senior, could not transfer with the family because she would have lost her class standing and, therefore, lost her access to scholarships...

Ms. BRONSON: Right.

BILL: ...and all kinds of things.

CONAN: Does that affect kids in New Orleans?

BILL: All the schools receiving these students, are they able to accommodate for that? Or are they...

Ms. BRONSON: I think the...

BILL: ...just ...(unintelligible)...

Ms. BRONSON: I did a whole story on kids and the whole college application process and the whole, you know, applying for scholarships. And the schools where these kids are at are really working with the students to make sure that they don't lose anything, any opportunities. And I know a lot of seniors will be coming--they want to graduate from their--the schools that they started out at, so a lot of these kids will be coming back. And I'm not really 100 percent sure how the whole class ranking thing is going to work out. I'm not sure if that's going to be done, you know, on an individual school basis. I'm not quite sure. But I know...

CONAN: I'm...

Ms. BRONSON: ...that the schools have been doing a good job with helping kids make sure all the--anything that's needed for college is done for them.

CONAN: Bill, thanks very much for the call.

We'll have more on this after a short break. This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan.

HANSEN: And I'm Liane Hansen.


CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

And here are the headlines from some of the other stories we're following here today at NPR News. Sectarian tensions flared again in Baghdad today. A prominent Sunni Arab tribal leader was murdered in his home, along with three of his sons. And Iran's nuclear activities are once again on the agenda of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The IAEA meets in Vienna starting tomorrow. Russia will put forward a plan aimed at resolving the situation. You can hear details on those stories and, of course, much more later today on "All Things Considered" from NPR News.

HANSEN: I'm Liane Hansen. Tomorrow at this time, we'll celebrate Thanksgiving by talking with the producers of the NPR series This I Believe. It's also a chance for you to contribute to the series. You can call in tomorrow or send us an e-mail now about what you believe. Our address is totn@npr.org. And be sure to put This I Believe in the subject line.

CONAN: We're wrapping up our conversation on teen-agers who are in flight from Katrina. Our guest is Barrie Bronson, staff writer for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, who's been specializing on this story. She joins us from her office down there.

And let's get another caller on the line. This is Judy, Judy calling us from Stockton, California.

JUDY (Caller): Hi. Many years ago, I had to transfer between my junior and senior year from Hawaii to California. Not one of the best years of my life, I gotta tell everybody, and to know that those kids are going through so much more than I had to go through...

CONAN: Yeah. I wonder, as you've talked to these kids, Barrie Bronson, I--it's hard to categorize all of them, but are they angry? Are they depressed? Are some of them seeing it as an opportunity?

Ms. BRONSON: I actually think it's a combination of all those emotions. And I've done a lot of reading of some of the kids'--a lot of the schools have started blogs, and so they're able to write about what they're going through. And I think you have all those emotions, but I honestly believe that the kids who are able to come home and who want to come home--there's going to be, I think, this newfound appreciation for their schools, their teachers, their friends and, you know, no longer taking things for granted. But I do think, as far as where they are now--I think there's a lot of those emotions.

CONAN: Judy, I wonder--teen-agers can usually find somebody to blame for their problems. I wonder in your case--your parents moved; you had to move with them--maybe they got the brunt of the blame?

JUDY: No, I blamed the Navy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, Barrie, after a hurricane, who do you blame?

Ms. BRONSON: Oh, boy. I guess the blame can go to many--I mean, obviously, Mother Nature, you know, was responsible for the hurricane. I mean, as far as the flooding that pretty much wiped the city out, there's a lot of blame going around on why that happened, and, you know, was it a result of, you know, bad mistakes in building the levee systems and that kind of stuff. So yeah, so there really is. I mean, I think just the hurricane by itself--you know, I think people would have been back in New Orleans a long time ago, but it's really the flooding that, you know, really destroyed so much of the city.

HANSEN: Barrie, it's Liane. I wanted to ask you something that Ashley(ph), one of our students, had mentioned about her new school and how, you know, she was talking to people that she never would have met before.

Ms. BRONSON: Right.

HANSEN: So to a certain extent, this does provide an opportunity for these teen-agers to get beyond the familiar...

Ms. BRONSON: Right.

HANSEN: ...as it were. Are...

Ms. BRONSON: I think that's one of the advantages, and you have to look at all of the--and it's one of the things that I've told my daughter, that, you know, you really have to make the best of this situa--it may not be what you want to be in, but make the best of it. You know, make new friends, get involved in activities and that kind of thing. So I do know several teen-agers who love their new schools and have gotten involved in--you know, whether it's the volleyball team or, you know, drama, whatever, they've really gotten involved in their schools. So I think you see--more of the kids that I talk to aren't really that happy, but there are certainly many, many kids who really do like their new schools.

CONAN: I wanted to thank Judy for the phone call. Appreciate it.

JUDY: OK. Have a good day.

CONAN: And, Barrie, before we let you go, there are going to be--as we know, some families have decided to relocate permanently; others are deciding to come back. Inevitably, there are going to be kids in families who've decided to relocate, who want to come back, and vice versa. This is just increasing family tension, and kids in high school--there's enough family tension to begin with.

Ms. BRONSON: Exactly. I know one of the things that I've heard of--this is really interesting--a lot of the schools--for parents who can't come back because either their house was destroyed or they lost their job and they have to be in another city, there actually--there are a lot of cases where parents are--where other families are taking in the kids, so that they can go to school at their school, and--which is very interesting. You're seeing that a lot with seniors, who want to--you want to be able to finish their senior year at their school. So, you know, there even--even when the parents have decided to stay in one city, they're--in a lot of cases, they're letting their kids go back and live with other families or other relatives who are here.

CONAN: And as tough as it might be at Thanksgiving or even Christmas, in a way, you think it might be worse if it's still going on at Mardi Gras.

Ms. BRONSON: It's going to be very interesting to see what happens at Mardi Gras time. The teen-agers love Mardi Gras, and I already know of several families who--either they're going to be gone for the whole school year or they're relocating permanently, but they're coming back for Mardi Gras. So it should be--that should be a very interesting time down here.

CONAN: Hm. Barrie, we look forward to your coverage of it.

Ms. BRONSON: OK. Well, great. Thanks.

CONAN: Appreciate your time today.

Ms. BRONSON: I appreciate it, too.

CONAN: And happy Thanksgiving.

Ms. BRONSON: Same to you.

CONAN: Barrie Bronson is a staff writer for the New Orleans Times-Picayune. She joined us by phone from their offices in New Orleans.

When we come back, the animals of Katrina.

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