School Climate & Safety

Miles Apart

By Debra Viadero — January 10, 2006 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The conversation in this third-floor apartment tonight is about Hurricane Katrina, and it’s clear that 12-year-old Holly Sweeney wants no part of it.

Her mother, Schondra Sweeney, takes up the slack, explaining how the storm wiped out their hometown of Waveland, Miss. Her laptop computer shows pictures of neighbors’ flattened houses, a sand-covered main street, and a refrigerator lying, wide-open, in what remains of the Sweeneys’ sunroom.

Verging on tears, Holly clings to her mother’s arm and then escapes to the bedroom.

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

The next day at school, the girl is all talk.

“I have about 30 friends here, and I had maybe 13 friends back home,” says the lanky preteen. She discusses her classwork, how she misses her father and her bedroom back home, and why she prefers the radio stations here in suburban Washington. “It’s kind of cool being the new kid,” she says.

What accounts for the transformation?

Experts have long suggested that re-establishing routines, particularly school routines, can be therapeutic for children who have experienced upheaval in their home lives. This seems to be true for Holly, as the members of her family piece their lives back together.

“She seems to have acclimated herself quite well,” says guidance counselor Louis Villafane.

After nearly two months apart, Holly Sweeney and her father, Steven Kinney, spend time together in an apartment in Virginia she shares with her mother, Schondra Sweeney.

Holly was one of two students to land here at Kenmore Middle School after Katrina uprooted their families.

A little “shellshocked” at first, as Villafane recalls, Holly visited the counselor’s office almost every day for the first week or two after her arrival. The visits lessened as a school psychologist began meeting regularly with Holly and her need for support declined.

A Forced Separation

The Sweeneys say they are more fortunate than most in Waveland, one of Mississippi’s hardest-hit Gulf Coast communities. They’re unhurt. Though neither of their two houses is habitable, at least one of them can be salvaged, and the family has decided to repair one and sell the other.

But the disaster has forced family members to live hundreds of miles apart. Holly’s father, Steven Kinney, stayed behind to repair the family’s houses and those of their neighbors. A contracting engineer, he lives in a trailer provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Holly’s older sister, Daniella, remains in Columbus, Miss., attending the Mississippi School for Math and Science, a residential public school for academically talented students.

Holly and Schondra Sweeney came here to northern Virginia because they could stay with a grandmother while Holly finished the school year. The two have since moved into a one-bedroom apartment that a residential-management company is providing rent-free for one year.

After that, plans are unsettled. The family may return to Waveland or move to Washington state to build a house on property they own there.

If mother and daughter had not left, Holly would have had to sit out classes until Nov. 7, when the Bay St. Louis-Waveland school system reopened, the last one in the state to do so. Because the Arlington County schools opened Sept. 6 here—nearly a month after schools did back home—Holly could start classes without missing a beat.

With the exception of mathematics, Holly says, the academic adjustment has not been difficult for her.

A Jewel of a School

In other respects, though, Kenmore Middle School could not be more different.

Spanking new, the school is a gem of the 18,500-student Arlington County district. The $33 million building houses a black-box theater, a dance studio, classrooms with computer whiteboards, and a soaring atrium.

Schondra Sweeney holds a photo of the street in Waveland, Miss., where their storm-damaged home still stands.

Its 720 students—below Kenmore’s full capacity—outnumber Bay St. Louis-Waveland’s prestorm enrollment. Kenmore is also far more diverse, racially and ethnically, than the mostly white middle school that Holly left.

After school, when she’s not attending club meetings or activities, Holly returns to the apartment, locks the door, and waits for her mother to get home from her job at a photocopying company.

The Sweeneys are concerned about safety in their neighborhood here, a congested patch of highways, apartment buildings, and convenience stores. They worry in particular about the men who regularly congregate outside their building.

Schondra Sweeney has caught them on videotape scratching the paint on her car.

Back in Waveland, which had 5,600 residents before the hurricane, the Sweeneys led a more small-town life. They felt comfortable leaving the house unlocked and the car keys in the ignition. Holly was free to meet friends at the skating rink or the beach.

“A lot of this, I know, has bothered her,” Sweeney says of her daughter.

But Holly still has her cellphone, her lifeline. She calls new friends here, old friends back home, and the friends scattered across the country.

“The money I get for my allowance,” she says, “sometimes I send to my friends back home.”


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety 'Devious Lick' TikTok Trend Creates Chaos in Schools Nationwide
Shattered mirrors, missing soap dispensers, and broken toilets in school bathrooms have been linked to the "devious lick" challenge.
Simone Jasper, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)
2 min read
At the new Rising Hill Elementary School in Kansas City, Mo., gender neutral student bathrooms have a common sink area for washing and individual, locking, toilet stalls that can be used by boys or girls. Principal Kate Place gave a tour of the facilities on Saturday, Aug. 11, 2018. The school is in the North Kansas City school district.
A gender neutral student bathroom.
Keith Myers/The Kansas City Star via AP
School Climate & Safety What the Research Says A Hallmark of School Shooters: Long History of Social Rejection
New research finds that shooters in K-12 schools are more often "failed joiners" than loners.
5 min read
Butler County Sheriff Deputies stand on the scene at Madison Local Schools, in Madison Township in Butler County, Ohio, after a school shooting on Feb. 29, 2016.
Sheriff deputies were on the scene of a shooting at Madison Local Schools, in Butler County, Ohio, in 2016.
Cara Owsley/The Cincinnati Enquirer via AP
School Climate & Safety 4 Myths About Suspensions That Could Hurt Students Long Term
New longitudinal research shows that longer in- and out-of-school suspensions have severe consequences for students.
5 min read
Image of a student sitting at a desk in a school hallway.
Jupiterimages/Getty
School Climate & Safety Photos The Tense and Joyous Start to the 2021 School Year, in Photos
Students are headed back to school with the threat of the Delta variant looming. How is this playing out across the country? Take a look.