Hurricane Katrina hit the southern coast of the United States coast on Aug. 29, 2005 with devastating effects.
This was one of the worst natural disasters ever to hit our country, a category 5 hurricane with winds that exceeded 145 mph, the most devastating of all hurricanes. Homes were destroyed, families dispersed around the United States, businesses wiped out and children deprived of a solid education.
This summer marked the third year that students, faculty, alumni and friends of National Louis University have traveled to NOLA (New Orleans, La.) to work with teachers and administrators.
They were part of the NLU team that partnered with NOLA and was initiated by Early Childhood Education Department assistant professor Karen Roth. The partnership was part of a movement to reopen schools as quickly as possible.
The project was organized by Ms. Roth as a service-learning opportunity. The volunteers, who contributed their own money toward the trip, helped some of the local schools prepare for the upcoming school year. The work generally consisted of setting up classrooms, cleaning, organizing books for grade-level reading, preparing bulletin boards and materials for students, creating posters for the classrooms and organizing student files and teacher supply rooms.
In the process of this work, participants made friends with the teachers they worked with, sharing curricular ideas and talking about the latest educational theories and practices. Mostly, they learned more about each other – their goals, dreams and plans for their profession and life. This is the reciprocal nature of service learning and civic engagement, Ms. Roth noted.
Among the Evanston volunteers were Nina D’Agostino, Graphic Artist for the Evanston RoundTable,and her daughter, Angela, a graduate of Evanston Township High School and The Ohio State University. They were participating for the second year as part of the NOLA Recovery School District.
“I felt I had to help besides donating money. I simply wanted to go to New Orleans right then and there,” Angela said. She and her team worked with Happy Times Preschool and Royal Castle Child Development Center and with KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) Central City Academy, Arthur Ashe and S. J. Green, all K-8 charter public schools.
Charter schools are tuition-free public schools created on the basis of an agreement between the school and community.
“Charter schools are public schools that use a mix of taxpayer funds and privately raised dollars to run their schools,” said Paul Vallas, superintendent of the Recovery School District in an Aug. 26 article in USA Today.
Evanston was well represented on the August service-learning trip.
Another Evanston resident, Phyllis Coleman, a Yoga instructor who is also an employee of Coldwell Banker, was sponsored for this trip by her students/clients and by co-workers at Coldwell Banker.
“The work could be demanding and frustrating at times…but in the end – good work was completed,” Ms. Coleman blogged. She worked painting rooms, moving furniture from basement to classroom — any job that helped get the school ready.
“The transformation of the special ed room is my fondest memory,” Ms. Coleman wrote. “Working Yoga as therapy for a special ed nursery school student will stay in my heart always…just a moment in time, but perhaps she rested more comfortably that day.”
This August trip was the second for Evanston resident Kristin Lems, EdD, associate professor at NLU. Not only did Dr. Lems work at NOLA in the classrooms but she also played guitar and sang with the 3- and 5-year-olds and the staff at Happy Times Preschool. Her family, Kennan Lems-Daoudi, 2009 ETHS graduate, and Karima Lems-Daoudi, an ETHS alum and recent graduate of Knox College, also participated in the August service-learning session.
The NLU partnership with NOLA schools continues to develop relationships with administrators as each new school reopens. Next summer, Ms. Roth hopes to add another new charter school.
Ms. Roth said she learned this trip that NOLA has plans to open 15 schools in the next three years. These are both newly constructed “green” buildings and rehabbed older school buildings brought up to the new codes. Some schools currently operate in temporary quarters, “ready to move into new school buildings within two to three years,” she said.
Volunteers interested in joining future service teams to continue the rebuilding of NOLA should contact Karen Roth at: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.