October 3, 2005

Schools open in some hard-hit New Orleans suburbs

By Nichola Groom

METAIRIE, Louisiana (Reuters) - Children returned to school
on Monday in some of the New Orleans suburbs hardest hit by
Hurricane Katrina, relieving weary parents as officials sought
to soothe students left jittery by destroyed homes and
scattered families.

Between one-third and one-half of the 52,000 children in
Jefferson Parish's public schools were back in class on Monday,
said Diane Roussel, the district's superintendent. In addition,
about 3,600 students from areas where schools remain closed
have flocked to the district, and many more were still

"A lot of the children in here are from other areas,"
Roussel said. "They are a little shaken."

Colin Lynch, 4, clutched a brown stuffed dog as he arrived
with his mother, Linda Pelican, for his first day of
pre-kindergarten at Ella Dolonde Elementary School in Metairie.

Kimberly Locantro, a chatty second-grader at Ella Dolonde,
appeared excited about her first day back at school after
having spent the five weeks since the storm in Little Rock,
Arkansas, Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Houston before returning
to a home ravaged by Katrina's 150 mile per hour winds.

"Our ceiling in the bathroom collapsed," she said.

To help ease the transition for children whose families
were uprooted by Katrina, a social worker at Airline Park
Elementary School in Metairie read to a student assembly a
story about a girl born during a hurricane. Teachers also
handed out multicolored Mardi Gras beads and sang songs about
New Orleans.

"Our word of the day is 'perseverance,"' Roussel said,
adding that such support would continue beyond the first day of

Nonprofit organization Save the Children, for instance is
training guidance counselors and other school officials in
Jefferson Parish and other parts of Mississippi and Louisiana
to get children to discuss their feelings about the hurricane.

"Children are incredibly resilient," said Carl Triplehorn,
an emergency-education specialist with Save the Children. "It's
just re-establishing the social networks, re-establishing a
sense of trust and stability that enables them to recover."

Parents, many of which only returned to their homes this
week, were pleased to finally be back to a routine.

"I'm very happy," said Kenneth Williams, whose son Kendo,
4, started school at Airline Park on Monday. "He was supposed
to start school a month ago."

Brandy Locantro, 30, piled her two daughters, Kaleigh
Powell, 10, and Savannah Smith, 6, and niece Kimberly, 8, into
a white minivan for their first day of school in over a month.

"They're doing fine, they're fighting over the front seat,"
Locantro said, adding that she was relieved to be back after
four weeks of living in a Baton Rouge hotel room with her
daughters, her boyfriend, and his son.

"You don't even know," she said. "Three kids, two cats, a
hamster. We lost the hamster."