Storm-displaced students find new home at St. Charles Catholic

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 8, 2005



LAPLACE – St. Charles Catholic Assistant Principal Therese Faucheaux doesn’t consider the trials and tribulations following two hurricanes to be just a big challenge for her school.

“This entire thing is a life lesson,” she said. “And I truly believe we will be dealing with this the rest of our lives.”

St. Charles Catholic is a perfect example of what virtually all schools in the region have faced. Taking in a new influx of students from displaced homes in the area, the challenge to help them adjust has been monumental.

At St. Charles Catholic, Faucheaux has found herself front and center, leading a large contingent of educators, as they have assumed their burden from the storms. But just as so many ways of life have been affected by the hurricanes, it has been more overwhelming than ever for schools and their attempt to help students relocate.

Yet the amazing thing is that educators such as Faucheaux, just like many other schools in the area, see it as a rewarding experience, even if it has meant untold extra hours of work with no additional reimbursement.

“We don’t do this for the money,” the 26-year English teacher said. “This is a passion for me to be in education. I learned that from my mother, who was a third grade teacher for 32 years.”

But the challenge from the hurricanes has brought a new level of commitment from Faucheaux and others like her.

One of the biggest problems has been helping all the kids get funding just to pay for their schooling, since many had already paid at New Orleans area private schools. And perhaps an even bigger challenge has been scheduling for students.

“Think about a child coming here who doesn’t remember exactly what classes they have taken for two or three years,” she said. “We have to try to figure that out, when no transcripts are available since many of them are sitting in mud somewhere.”

That becomes an even more important situation since many students are seniors, and must have certain classes to ensure they graduate.

“It hasn’t just been me, I have had so many other teachers helping to figure this all out,” she said. “But the trials and tribulations we have faced have been a very rewarding experience. People have been so kind, with their words, and sometimes with notes we get from parents.”

St. Charles Catholic had an amazing total of approximately 800 students apply to attend the school immediately after the storms. The school had a normal enrollment this year of just over 400, meaning they had to sort out which students they could take, since the school obviously could not take them all.

“We had to evaluate just how many we could take,” SCC spokesman Don Fernandez explained. “And that was difficult since we had to consider how long they would be here, whether it was a temporary situation or not, and if we had enough teachers.”

In the end, the school added 190 students and managed to do so hiring just four more teachers.

But that also put another burden on the SCC teaching staff.

“Suddenly you have teachers who have classes increasing by five, 10, 15 students,” Fernandez said. “And that means grading 15 more tests for everything. Some teachers have taken extra classes. It’s just been a lot of extra responsibility for everyone around here, and yet they have all done it with such a willing attitude.”

Faucheaux has been at the forefront of probably the toughest challenge, trying to figure out the schedules for all the new students, when records for most have been unavailable.

“The kids just didn’t know what classes they needed,” she said. “But I have viewed each of these children as if they were my own. I have thought ‘what if this was my child’ and then I have tried to use that to guide me. Many of these parents have been frantically searching for a place to put their kids, and we just want to put them in a situation where things can be as normal as we can possibly make it.”

Fernandez confirmed that many students wanting to come to SCC didn’t have the financial means to do so, but there again, the school and its family has stepped up to help.

“Not only did we have our own families help with tuition donations, but we had a special night for families to come and donate everything from uniforms to school supplies. You have to remember that many of these kids come from homes where they have lost everything,” he noted. “But from the beginning of this situation we have tried to focus on doing the right thing by helping those in need, and our teachers here have all been super in helping us with that.”

Outside of St. Charles Catholic, many stories have also come to light about other schools out-of-state which have helped.

One teacher at SCC, Connie Cambre, told a friend of hers in Ohio about their situation and many needs. Carrie Smith, who is a teacher at the Cincinnati school, started a drive there through “Project Lead” to collect money or candy. SCC received a check for $2,000 and a 107-pound box of candy from the kids.

A friend of Faucheaux’s who teaches at Redemptorist High School in Baton Rouge called SCC since Redemptorist had been featured on a national news program, and was inundated with donations.

“That was a former student of mine who called to see if we needed some things,” Faucheaux related. “My husband and I drove to the school and brought back about 40 backpacks, all filled with supplies, personal items and many other wonderful things. It was just so rewarding to see how others have helped out.”

How long this mission will continue is anybody’s guess. But Faucheaux said the school is in it for the long haul.

“We are in this for whatever it takes, and how long it takes,” she said. “Our school motto this year was ‘Walk by Faith’ and it has been amazing to see how we have been challenged to do just that.”

Faucheaux made that point before a school meeting just before classes resumed, when she read the mission statement of St. Charles Catholic in front of current and new parents.

“Our mission statement was so true about what we need to do in this situation,” she said. “We are all walking by faith to help.”