Schools Welcome Katrina Students
Leorah Mims, the principal of Escambia High School in Pensacola, Fla. — a city that was devastated by Hurricane Ivan last year — is attempting to integrate 38 evacuee students as quickly as possible into school life.
"We're trying as hard as we can to get them into every class they were taking at home and to make them feel more comfortable," Mims said. "We gave football tickets to every child and members of their family so they can start feeling part of the school. The student government is giving out tickets to the homecoming dance this weekend."
But the transition has been hard for sisters Deaja Mitchell, 17, and Dennas Mitchell, 19, who came to Escambia High School from New Orleans East. They are staying with a relative in a FEMA trailer who was displaced from her home during Hurricane Ivan. Nine people are struggling to fit in the three-bedroom trailer.
"They are real nice over there (at Escambia High)," Deaja said. "But I'm used to my old school and I'm not with my friends. I'm probably not going to graduate with my class. I hope I can go back to my old school, but I'm not quite sure."
While districts have been welcoming students with open arms, concern is growing about how they are going to pay to educate all the new students. This week, the Texas Department of Education had seen more than 38,000 new students, and were expecting the number to increase, said DeEtta Culbertson, a spokesperson for the department.
"We're waiting to hear about funding, we're talking with the United States Department of Education … we're talking to Congress," Culbertson said. "But right now we're focusing on getting students enrolled and in a semblance of a normal life."
Louisiana and Mississippi are both requesting large aid packages to rebuild the hundreds of schools damaged and to continue to be able to pay teachers, officials said.
"We are going to need federal assistance for the long-term while these communities rebuild their tax base," said Hank Bounds, Mississippi state superintendent of Education. "We're very concerned with how we are going to deal with those school districts on the coast."
For the short term at least, schools such as Escambia High say they will take all hurricane evacuees — no matter how many show up.
"The last thing these kids need is to register in a school and to be told it's full," Mims said. "We are going to do our dead-level best to accommodate each and every student who comes in. We may be bursting at the seams, but we'll burst at the seams with a smile on our faces."
By Gina Pace
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