The national tragedy unfolding in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi in the wake of Hurricane Katrina has moved millions of citizens to offer financial aid, support and comfort to the storm's victims. D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) has responded, for its part, by opening its doors to the most powerless of those victims: the children.
When the scope of the tragedy became clear, DCPS mobilized its staff to prepare for the children who would be coming to the nation's capital. Getting students into a school quickly not only restores some normalcy to their lives, it is essential to the children's social and emotional well-being and their future academic success.
DCPS established two centers, one at the care center at Shaw Junior High School and one at the National Guard Armory, to register children quickly and to make sure that the children were placed in the appropriate grades and schools. In concert with the District's other outreach efforts, DCPS made provisions for supportive services, including free immunizations so that the children could meet the requirements for school attendance; the DCPS provides the same service for the city's homeless families. DCPS also provided the evacuees with free breakfasts and lunches, counseling, and transportation to and from school. It equipped them with school supplies, backpacks and other materials.
Along with these efforts, DCPS students stepped up to help their peers. Eastern High School students held a fundraiser featuring the school band, junior ROTC and student government leaders; it netted more than $1,700. Other students put together bags of toiletries, while still others baked cookies for the evacuees. At Payne Elementary School, the first- and second-graders welcomed the newest members of their school with smiles and hugs.
So far, 32 students from New Orleans and other communities affected by Katrina have enrolled in the city's public schools. While the armory is considered a temporary accommodation for a finite number of students, the care center at Shaw Junior High will remain operational for weeks as affected families continue to connect with relatives and friends in the area.
I am confident that DCPS is making a difference.
"The DCPS staff has been wonderful," said Zheyra Hill, one of the Katrina evacuees. "They have helped me get my five children in school. They have been very helpful. God bless you."
DCPS is approaching the disaster as an opportunity to affirm a pledge as a public school district that is committed to serve all, regardless of disposition. Its principals and teachers want to make this a successful school year for these displaced children whose most reliable experience in this time of confusion may be the familiar and healing rituals of learning.
-- Clifford B. Janey
is the superintendent of D.C. Public Schools.