St. Charles school reopen, aiming for back to routine

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 19, 2005

‘Normalcy’ is watchword for school district


Managing Editor

LULING — St. Charles Parish public schools re-opened Thursday, and while acknowledging the storm-created interval, the emphasis was on getting back to the day-to-day routines.

The re-opening was only for students already enrolled prior to Katrina. New students, displaced by the storm, are due to arrive for classes this week and more are expected. Early Head Start, Head Start and 4-year-old programs are also open.

A visitor to Raymond K. Smith Middle School in Luling would hardly be aware Katrina had passed. The new building, which opened for classes for the first time this school term, bore no scars from the storm.

Principal Diane Powell said, “We had a really, really good opening.” She added that Executive Director for Physical Plant Services Larry Sesser and the school district’s maintenance crews made certain all facilities were fit for students in time for the opening, despite their own maintenance center being crippled by the storm.

The day began with “Tiger Time,” where students in small groups talked about their own experiences, getting the cobwebs of their stresses and memories off their minds and prepared to move back into the school routine.

Then, “Team Time” had each grade level in an assembly to gear them back into where the students left off, prior to the storm.

“Then it was back to instruction and the business of education,” Powell said. Absenteeism is negligible, and she is waiting for a small group of displaced students next week, with more likely to come. To deal with that, each new student will have a current student paired with them in a “buddy system,” helping with questions and socialization.

Powell, a native of St. Bernard Parish, commented, “It’s situations like this which bring out the best of character. All in all, people are good, and will go back to a normal life.”

As bells rang for the next class, Powell said, “The sooner that we jump back in to the business of education, the better it is. We’re getting back to the rhythm of life.”

Across the river, at Norco K-3 Elementary, principal Rita Bertolino is expecting 10 new displaced students and at least 24 more after that. She is planning an orientation for their parents and the students, and had high praise for the school district’s pre-planning.

“The district worked on developing a plan, developing priorities, and stuck to them,” Bertolino said.

The school had at least three students and a teacher to relocate, but some excellent applicants came in and the teacher position was filled by an excellent applicant from St. Bernard Parish, Bertolino said.

She also called the Norco Civic Association and urged caution for drivers in Norco’s narrow streets to be careful of the high piles of debris, as small children are now out and about, as buses roll and they may not be easily seen.

Also, the portable classroom buildings are not being used while they are being repaired, Bertolino said in a message to parents.

Additionally, the school is prepared to deal with students trying to handle the traumas they may have experienced, and Bertolino advised her teachers to extend the morning meeting to allow the students to express their feelings, through art, writing or talking about them.

“Unfortunately, these traumas in our lives are benchmarks in our lives,” she said.