A Special Bond

They had never met back in New Orleans, but a pair of 9th graders have become inseparable since ending up in the same Maryland high school after the hurricane left them homeless.

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Classmates at Reservoir High School sometimes call Dalyn Jones and Anthea Fields the “Katrina chicks.” Left homeless by the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, both teenagers migrated from the New Orleans area to Maryland in September. They met for the first time here when they showed up on the same day to register for 9th grade.

“When I first met her I was like, ‘I don’t want to talk to her,’ ” Anthea recalls. In the weeks that followed, though, the two became inseparable, sharing a bond that few of their peers will ever understand.

“We talk about Katrina almost every day,” says Anthea, 15, who lived on the east side of New Orleans until floodwaters ravaged the Gulf Coast city. She and her family were trapped for days as the water rose outside their apartment window.

They were eventually evacuated by boat and deposited on a nearby interstate. From there, a helicopter flew them to another highway, where they sustained themselves on sips of warm water and waited 17 hours for a bus to Houston’s Astrodome.

The family headed here after a friend showed up with plane tickets to fly them to waiting relatives.

“I have nightmares every day,” Anthea says.

Fourteen-year-old Dalyn had been living with her grandmother just across the Mississippi River in Plaquemines Parish. Her family left town ahead of the storm and drove to Atlanta.

When it became clear there was no going back, Dalyn flew here to stay with an aunt and finish the school year. Her grandmother moved to a motel near her nursing-home job in Kentwood, La.

To Dalyn, though, it’s all déjà vu. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan blew the roof off her grandmother’s house. The two had just returned to the refurbished home this past July—a month before Katrina would finish it off.

Unfamiliar Territory

Anthea and Dalyn say it helps to have someone else with whom to negotiate the unfamiliar terrain of Reservoir High. With 1,375 students, the suburban school is newer and bigger than those they left behind.

Both displaced from the New Orleans area by Hurricane Katrina, Anthea Fields, left, and Dalyn Jones have become fast friends since showing up on the same day in September to enroll at Reservoir High School in Laurel, Md. They say having each other has helped them adjust to unfamiliar surroundings.
Both displaced from the New Orleans area by Hurricane Katrina, Anthea Fields, left, and Dalyn Jones have become fast friends since showing up on the same day in September to enroll at Reservoir High School in Laurel, Md. They say having each other has helped them adjust to unfamiliar surroundings.
—Photograph by Hector Emanuel

Although it’s more racially diverse than most schools in Maryland’s 49,000-student Howard County district, Reservoir High has a bigger proportion of white students than the girls’ previous schools. Twenty-three percent of the enrollment is African-American, like Anthea and Dalyn, and more than half is white.

“At my old school, we had like two white people, and they acted like us people,” says Anthea, who attended the 750-student L.E. Rabouin Magnet Career High School in New Orleans.

With just 450 students, Dalyn’s former school, Boothville-Venice High School, served students from prekindergarten through 12th grade. It was more diverse than Anthea’s school but, to Dalyn, the racial boundaries were more fluid than at Reservoir High.

“Our community was kind of close-knit, and the races all intermingled,” says Dalyn’s aunt, Denita Jones, a Boothville graduate.

‘You Can’t Go Back to Nothing’

Much else is new, too: annual state exams, girls wearing pajamas to school, tightly structured physical education classes, and no uniforms. Anthea loved her old uniform.

“Before I left the house, I remember that I thought, I gotta bring my uniform,” she says, recalling the day she fled the floodwaters.

Anthea says she finds her coursework here easy; Dalyn is struggling in English and math.

“We were still on basic stuff like multiplication and subtraction and, up here, they was doing equations like 3x plus y, and I’m like, ‘What is this?’ ” Dalyn says.

Diane McCarthy, the girls’ guidance counselor at Reservoir High, says the school is gearing up to provide tutoring for students like Dalyn who need extra help. Both girls also take remedial reading classes.

When the pair arrived, educators gave them school supplies and store gift cards, says McCarthy. They also opened the school store so the girls could take their pick of clothes bearing Reservoir “Gator” insignia.

McCarthy still meets weekly with both girls, together and separately.

“We have a lot of kids who suffer from trauma and crises,” she says, “and we do our best to be sensitive.”

Even so, Dalyn and Anthea miss the friends they left behind, the food, and the distinctive New Orleans culture. In Louisiana, Dalyn had made the junior-varsity cheerleading squad. Anthea participated in the dance team and track and field. Here, they’re reluctant to try out for those activities.

“It’s like people you don’t really know are watching you,” Dalyn says, “and the dance team—the style of dance is way different.”

She hopes to return home when her grandmother’s house is rebuilt.

Anthea is less sure what she’ll do when the school year ends. Though she’d like to go home, she says, “you can’t go back to nothing.”

Vol. 25, Issue 18, Pages 24-25

Published in Print: January 11, 2006, as A Special Bond
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