Thursday, March 02, 2006

Part 11: It takes a village to move a school

Recap: Last time, we snuck into Orleans Parish using Mark's press pass. Words could not describe what we saw. We were getting ready to move the school from Mid-City to Metairie.

Wednesday afternoon, while we were still at the remains of our home, Alicia called me. The call went straight to voice mail, as cell reception in Lakeview was scarce. I talked to her on the way out, and she could tell something was wrong. She asked what was the matter, and I responded with, "I'm leaving my house right now." She had been to Gentilly to see her parents house a few days earlier, and while she no longer lived there, it was where she grew up. They lost as much as we did, including my uncle's company car. She asked if I wanted to stop by that evening, and I will admit I immediately thought, "No." But then I realized that I didn't really want to be home with my thoughts, especially since Mark was going back to Baton Rouge. We showered, leaving bathtub rings that looked like the brown bathtub rings all over the city. That's what it looks like: A skanky shower. We cleaned the tub, and gingerly threw the clothes directly into the washing machine.

As soon as he showered, Mark hit the road. I would see him that weekend, hopefully. I ate something, then headed to Alicia and Kurt/Kevin and Geoff's. (Remember, they live in a shotgun double.) Most of the gang was there. Blake and Matt were missing, as Matt only showed if Blake was there, and Blake was in Missouri. Mark was in Baton Rouge. Kate was still in New York. Alex, from St. Bernard, was not back yet, which meant no Crystal. So it was Geoff, Kevin, Calie, Caroline, Keith, Alicia, Kurt, and me. I brought my camera. We ran my pictures into Kevin's computer, then broadcast them on the television. Having a computer genius for a brother brings in some pretty cool results for his house. Anyway, we did a slide show with them. As expected, the usually loud bunch was silent. I would have liked an alcoholic beverage, but I was driving myself in my mom's car, so it didn't happen. I needed one, really. One other problem: the curfew for Jefferson Parish was still midnight. I had to leave by 11 anyway.

It was my first real night seeing everyone. The last time I visited with my parents, when we were starting to move them home, Geoff was still at Calie's house. I went to visit for a little while, and Keith and Caroline were there. That was all I had seen of anyone. They all noticed that I'd lost a few pounds. That would not last long, as over the next 4 or so months, I would gain weight, ending up 20 pounds heavier than I was on August 27, the last "normal" day. It felt so good to reunite, but I can't help but feel jealous of them. Calie, Caroline, and Keith are all in River Ridge and Harahan, so they had no damage. Geoff, Kevin, and Kurt and Alicia were all miraculously fine in Old Metairie. Kurt lost his car, and they almost lost much more, but the house, if you remember, was raised at a magical height that kept the 3-4 feet of water their block received from entering it. Kevin's parents and Alicia's parents lost everything. Well, Kevin's parents had a two-story house, so they didn't quite lose everything, but they lost a great deal, to put it mildly. This jealous feeling was a problem that would continue to rear its ugly head....and still does, 6 months later. Yes, yesterday was the 6 month anniversary, sort of, as February did not have a 29 this year. My mom joked that since there was no 29, that we could pretend it didn't happen. Easier said than done. The jealousy isn't just with my friends, though; it's with everyone I come in contact with who has no problems. This is difficult to process.

That night, Kurt agreed to come help me move my classroom the next day. I had the meeting time incorrect, though. Melissa called to inform me of this. She told me to write the school name and "Essential Personnel Caravan" on a piece of paper, then stick it in the window. When I reached the checkpoint, an NOPD stopped me. I must have had a nervous look on my face, because he joked with me about looking like I was up to no good, then he waved me through. We took Metairie Road to City Park Ave. Seeing City Park that first time was hard. I have so many great memories of that place: feeding the birds with my mom and grandma, playing at Story Land, Christmas/Celebration in the Oaks, the multitude of concerts I'd been to over the years at Marconi Meadows, carriage rides with Mark, the New Orleans Museum of Art...all of those majestic live oak trees, split like balsa wood, wilted and brown from toxic water, bare to the bone, lacking their usual blanket of Spanish moss. It was heart-wrenching. I drove through this park every morning during my two weeks of employment. I remembered that last Friday morning, when Katrina was a footnote, expected to loop back and hit Florida again. Nothing to worry about. The sun was rising, a light fog hovered around the live oaks. A giant raccoon came out in the road, staring me down for a few minutes before moving on. I was amused more than annoyed. I realized that this zen moment of mine would be gone forever, because even if I was still working there next school year when we returned to the Mid-City campus, I would not take that route there . I'd take the I-10, most likely. This hit me with a heavy sadness.

We got to school, and found that it was a total island of peace, surrounded by a moat of destruction. Cars were bashed in with trees, there was no electricity, houses were stained, rotten, dissipating before our eyes, it seemed. It was not as tragic as my neighborhood, mostly because our school was fine.

Kurt worked. Let me tell you. That man is amazing when it comes to helping with something like this. He even wore a T-shirt for "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure." It had a picture of the main characters and said, "BOGUS!" underneath. It brought a wry smile to my face.

We loaded half of our stuff into Melissa's Saturn and my mom's Camry. Other stuff went into an SUV belonging to one of the high school teachers, Michelle. She was assigned to our room and also did a great job. At 11:30 a.m., we all had to caravan together back to Metairie. They didn't want anyone alone, as there was reduced police presence, increased looting, intense debris in the roads, and no traffic lights, as well as reduced cellular service. More bars in more places, my foot. Not when hurricanes are involved.

We unloaded our belongings. We were told that Melissa's and my classroom would merge with Kelly and Kelle's classroom. Elaine and Jennifer would merge with Annie and Michelle. However, Annie wasn't coming back, and we were short a few 1/2 teachers, so Kelle was shifted to 1/2, and Michelle went up to 5/6. Kelly would be the "Internet liaison," communicating with the families that were unable to return, didn't want their children at other schools, and were planning on home schooling until the could return next year, or in January.

We worked hard, buying furniture, unpacking boxes, and generally trying to figure out how co-co-teaching would work. We were told to leave our furniture at the other campus, because we were donating our buildings to a much-less-fortunate Lakeview school for the rest of the year. So we bought some. Since Melissa was without all of her belongings, she said any of the bookshelves that we had left at the end of the year would just become her personal property, so she didn't mind buying bookshelves and such.

On Friday, Kurt couldn't come help, but my dad did. We caravaned back into Orleans again, this time taking my dad's Durango. We did everything we had done the day before. But towards the end of the day, it was a bit much for my dad, who had to leave because he was too worn out.

The whole next week, we worked our butts off, racing to Wal-Mart and Target and Big Lots during the few hours a day that they were open. School was supposed to start on Monday, Oct. 3, but because of the Rita delay, we pushed the first day up to Monday, Oct. 10. But on Friday, Oct. 7, we would hold a "Welcome Back Day of Healing." We spent that whole week prepping, and our classroom looked amazing. We were ready. That Thursday, a child psychologist whose daughter I've known through the J since she was 4, stopped by. He is a friend to my school, and he was telling me that his daughter, who at this time was 14 (she's 15 now, yikes) was bugging him to let her come see me on Friday since he was coming for our first day. He said this in front of the school president, who told him to bring her, that seeing me was probably more important than her first day of school, which was that Friday. That's the type of people I work for. She's a president of a school, and she told this man to let his daughter skip her first day back after the storm to reconnect with me. I love this school and its administration. That's no lie.

So on Friday, I nervously dressed professionally in my one nice outfit and dress shoes. We started the day off with an "open house" of sorts, to let the kids come check out their new space. I didn't know what the day would hold, other than the visit from my former camper, Mirit. I didn't know about tears, reservations, hang-ups, and whatever else would show up with the kids and their parents. While the kids were playing in their rooms, the parents would have a meeting, to discuss finances, replacement uniforms and supplies, the new dress code (jeans and school T-shirts or school uniforms, if you had them. Same for us, jeans and school T-shirts were fine, as were tennis shoes or professional clothes, if you had them, at least until January.), and the adjusted calendar. We were going to be in school until mid-June, which, to people from the north, should not sound unusual. But here, we start school in the first or second week of August (we had two weeks of school in by August 29, if you noticed) and end the last week in May. We added 15 minutes to every day. We dropped several random holidays and half days, and we also shortened the length of Christmas break. Mardi Gras was probably not going to happen, so the Mardi Gras holidays were up in the air as well. Not as bad as we thought.

Mirit stopped in first thing in the morning. She and her father and the school president came together. It was so comforting to see her. Even though she is so much younger than me, I am fairly close to her. It was great to see her. Last time we spoke, her family was in Houston, evacuating Rita, and she was scared. I was trying to be the brave one, but I was just as terrified as she was.

At an appointed time, we met in the cafeteria for Mass. Mass ended with group singing and a candle-light ceremony. A pot-luck lunch followed. We all had to bring something, and several of the parents club members brought things, too.

It was so good to see my students. Many seemed okay. Many seemed sad. But seeing them made me feel like things might be okay. I was excited about Monday. Normalcy would return.

When the day was over, we finished up some loose ends in the room. They had been hinting that I would need to spend parts of my day in 7/8. I went to find out when that would be so that we could finalize our own classroom schedule. While we were meeting about that, they realized that the numbers for 7/8 had increased dramatically, and a third class was necessary. 3/4 did not rise. At the last minute, after having seen all of my students, and having them think that I was going to be their teacher, I was pulled from 3/4 and placed in 7/8.

I reacted to this with mixed emotions. I would be leaving my kids. They had already seen me and expected to be in my class. I was leaving two people I had really bonded with as partners and friends. I was being paired up with a teacher I didn't know.

But I was going to be in my area: my secondary certification is going to be for grades 6-12. I was going to teach reading, writing, and science: animal biology, to be exact. It was what I needed, for school purposes and personal reasons. How exciting. Kelly was still at school when I found out, and she was very sad, but happy for me at the same time. I packed up my few things, as it's my first year teaching, and I didn't have much to contribute yet. I had to call Melissa, as she was already gone for the day. She was very sad. But, also happy for me, since I was supposed to be there.

School was going to be very different. Very, very different. Now I had new anxieties to face.

Next time: Part 12: Surviving Middle School

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