‘There’s No Place Like Home’: Emily C. Watkins students return to campus 2 years post-Ida

Published 8:23 am Wednesday, August 9, 2023

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LAPLACE — Teachers wore shirts with the comforting phrase “There’s No Place Like Home” as they welcomed students back to the Emily C. Watkins Elementary campus for the first time in nearly two years.

After Hurricane Ida struck Southeast Louisiana in August 2021, leaving the ECW campus in disarray, students found themselves sharing the halls of Lake Pontchartrain Elementary for the remainder of the 2021-22 school year. The following year, the ECW students moved to the old Leon Godchaux Junior High campus, which formerly housed the STEM Magnet program.

Principal Shontrece Lathers came in as interim principal while students were on the Leon Godchaux campus, and her position as leader of the school was solidified over the summer. Lathers remembers being displaced by Hurricane Isaac when she was an educator at Lake Pontchartrain Elementary, and she knows from experience the difference it makes when children have a sense of stability.

“They are able to breathe easier. It’s a sense of relief, being home,” Lathers said. “Many of them were displaced from their actual homes and the school as well, so it was a double blow. Being back in the school site is a sense of normalcy.”

Physically, the building looks nearly the same as it did before. Since most of the repairs were out of sight, including HVAC work, it was easy for staff to feel like they were stepping right back into the routines that were interrupted two years ago.

When teacher Kelly Sylvain returned to her classroom on July 27, she saw a board filled with notes that she had written in August 2021. She recalled thinking that the hurricane would blow over in a weekend, and it would be business as normal the following Monday.

“It had been so long, but once we walked in, it was almost like no time had passed,” Sylvain said.

“It feels wonderful,” she added. “We can see from the looks on the children’s faces that they are just as happy to be back.”

Sylvain was particularly touched by the reaction of a student during last week’s open house. The child looked around, ran to his teachers, and gave each of them a big bear hug while exclaiming, “This place looks awesome!”

Some of the children returning to school Monday were very young the last time they disembarked from school buses in front of Emily C. Watkins. Others, such as the pre-K through first graders, are completely new to the campus this year.

Lathers embraces the opportunity to watch all of the children grow together under the school district’s 2023-24 motto, “Elevating Excellence Every Day.”

Emily C. Watkins has its own theme for this school year: “There’s No Place Like Home.”

“We are utilizing the things that the characters in the Wiz were looking for – courage, the heart, the brain,” Lathers said. “We want to instill in our students that they already have everything that they need in order to be successful. We are just building upon what they have. We are here, and we are working to make sure every child succeeds on this campus, that our teachers and students are successful, and that our community as a whole is successful.”