School Climate & Safety

Katrina’s Castaways

By Debra Viadero — January 10, 2006 1 min read

Hurricane Katrina, the disastrous storm that struck the Gulf Coast in late August, displaced an estimated 1 million people. Historians are already calling the resulting exodus of families from hard-hit coastal communities in Louisiana and Mississippi the greatest mass migration in the United States since the Civil War.

The diaspora extended north to Alaska and east to the Atlantic coast. Families moved because they needed shelter and jobs, of course, but a desire to get their children’s schooling back on track was also a motivating force.

“I didn’t really want my children to miss a month of school,” one mother from the New Orleans area told Education Week. “The driving force through this whole thing has been to try to keep some normalcy in their lives.”

Katrina’s Castaways
A Special Bond
Venturing Back Home
Miles Apart

What follows is a look at the experiences of six students and their families who were part of that exodus. Eighth grader Holly Sweeney and her family are from Waveland, Miss. The Midura children—Redding, Justis, and Sophie—come from New Orleans. So, too, do Dalyn Jones and Anthea Fields, both of them high school freshmen.

They came from a private school, a charter school, a regular public school, and a magnet school. But they all ended up in public schools within an hour’s drive of the nation’s capital.

Schondra Sweeney, left, examines paintings from her home studio in Waveland, Miss., with daughter Holly, center, at their Arlington, Va., apartment. Sweeney's older daughter, Daniella, right, has continued to live in their home state since Hurricane Katrina seperated the family.

In districts, such as the Houston school system, that have seen a heavy influx of Gulf Coast families, the presence of so many displaced students has sometimes sparked tensions. The students profiled here experienced smoother transitions, partly because they came in smaller numbers. Virginia’s 18,500-student Arlington County school district, for instance, easily absorbed the 40 Katrina survivors who showed up on its doorstep.

The question now is how many of these migrating students have moved for good. Will they return home at the next break, wait until the school year ends, or never go back? All that’s certain as 2006 begins is the uncertainty.


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