School Climate & Safety

Venturing Back Home

By Debra Viadero — January 10, 2006 4 min read

Nearly four months after Hurricane Katrina laid waste to their hometown, Jonathan and Shelley Midura are packing up the family’s van and heading back from this Washington suburb to New Orleans. They just have to figure out where their three children will go to school.

Before the storm hit, this upper-middle-class family had enrolled the children in two different schools. Eleven-year-old Redding had started 6th grade at the private Isidore Newman School. Justis, 9, and Sophie, 5, attended the International School of Louisiana, a charter public school offering immersion programs in French and Spanish.

Though Katrina shut down both schools, the charter school reopened Oct. 31. The private school reopened last week.

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

Unfortunately for the Miduras, though, the charter school was forced to move outside New Orleans. It operates now out of a church and portable trailers in Kenner, La., a suburb west of New Orleans. By opening day, only 40 students—a tenth of its normal enrollment—had re-enrolled.

The relocation poses a problem for Shelley Midura because she cannot make the 20-minute morning drive to Kenner and back in time to deliver Redding, her oldest, to Newman. Plus, uncertainties abound: Will the 5-year-old charter school have to change its language-immersion practices to attract more students? What form will the city’s revamped public school system take in the fall?

“I’m just not willing to trust it’s going to be all OK and going well,” Midura says. “And I’m not just going to enroll my kid in some school I know nothing about.”

So, on this gray December day, Midura is on her cellphone, figuring out the cost of enrolling all three children at Newman.

Children Adjust Well

The prospect of switching schools is painful for the 40-year-old stay-at-home mom because she was one of the parents who helped found the charter school. She still supports its mission.

“You combine all this with the fact that Arlington has beautiful schools, so why go back?” she adds.

Jonathan and Shelley Midura lived in a house slated for demolition in Arlington, Va., after having to evacuate their New Orleans home along with their children, Redding, right, Justis, and Sophie.

But there are reasons to return, too. Though the family’s home withstood Katrina, much of the surrounding neighborhood didn’t. The Miduras could not sell the house now without taking a loss.

What’s more, Shelley Midura is gearing up for a possible City Council run back home, and she needs to build name recognition.

“If there aren’t clear-cut reasons to leave, if your home wasn’t completely destroyed, it’s harder to make a decision,” she says.

Indeed, Redding has thrived at Williamsburg Middle School here. He joined the biking club and the swim team. In November, he was named a student of the month.

“Up here, I like how the kids are nicer,” Redding tells a visitor. On the other hand, he notes, the Isidore Newman School has a swimming pool, “cool” activities, and a lighter homework load in every subject but mathematics.

The hardest part of the adjustment, Redding says, has been riding a school bus for the first time. He missed his stop on the ride home his first day of school.

“It was scary,” he says.

Justis and Sophie also fit easily at Jamestown Elementary School.

Shelley Midura and her daughter, Sophie, wrap homemade pralines to use as goodbye gifts before the family's return to New Orleans. Midura needs to find a new school for two of her three children because their charter school was forced by the hurricane to relocate to another community.

A social worker from the Arlington County school system visited the family before classes started. The schools also assigned “buddies“ to show Redding and Justis around. And, up until the family departed last month, a counselor at Justis’ school checked on him each Friday to monitor his progress.

Aside from two peers who called the boys “Katrina kids,” classmates welcomed and befriended the displaced siblings. Among only a handful of Katrina evacuees on their campuses, the children were even minor celebrities for a while.

The family fled to Arlington because a college roommate of Shelley Midura offered them basement space close to reputable schools.

The move to northern Virginia also made sense because Jonathan Midura’s parents live in nearby Maryland, and he already had been commuting to the Washington area each week to manage computer databases for several federal agencies.

“The storm hit on a Monday. We were here by Thursday and on Friday we registered for school,” Shelley Midura recalls.

Future ‘Very Different’

When it became apparent that they wouldn’t be returning to New Orleans right after the storm, the Miduras used their $700-plus monthly allotment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to rent a house that is slated for demolition.

A volunteer group and churches lent or gave the family just enough furniture to make the empty house seem livable. The school system provided gift cards to local stores.

“The floors are tilted, so cars roll when you put them down,” says Redding of the house. The heating system doesn’t work on this day, either, but Shelley Midura isn’t complaining. She knows rents this close to Washington can be far higher.

Though the Miduras are looking forward to getting home, they aren’t sure what to expect. Their house is in good shape, but Shelley Midura’s childhood home is gone. Some friends and classmates who left the city are not yet back.

“School’s going to be very different,” Midura adds, musing, as evening darkens the bare walls. “Just like most of New Orleans is going to be very different.”

Events

School & District Management Live Event EdWeek Leadership Symposium
Education Week's Premier Leadership Event for K12 School & District Leaders.
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
Law & Courts Webinar
The Future of Criminal Justice Reform: A Sphere Education Initiative Conversation
America’s criminal justice system is in crisis and calls for reform are dominating the national debate. Join Cato’s Sphere Education Initiative and Education Week for a webinar on criminal justice and policing featuring the nation’s
Content provided by Cato Institute
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
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education

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 As States Fall Short on Tracking Discipline, Concerns for Equity Grow
Pandemic upheavals have left a majority of states with holes in their data about discipline in schools, potentially worsening disparities.
4 min read
Image of a student sitting outside of a doorway.
DigitalVision
School Climate & Safety Proms During COVID-19: 'Un-Proms', 'Non-Proms', and Masquerades
High school proms are back in this second spring of COVID-19, though they may not look much like the traditional, pre-pandemic versions.
7 min read
Affton Missouri UnProm
Affton High School students attend a drive-in theater "un-prom" in Missouri on April 18.
Photo Courtesy of Deann Myers
School Climate & Safety Opinion 5 Things to Expect When Schools Return to In-Person Learning
Many schools are just coming back to in-person learning. There are five issues all school communities should anticipate when that happens.
Matt Fleming
5 min read
shutterstock 1051475696
Shutterstock
School Climate & Safety What the Research Says 'High-Surveillance' Schools Lead to More Suspensions, Lower Achievement
Cameras, drug sweeps, and other surveillance increase exclusionary discipline, regardless of actual student misbehavior, new research finds.
5 min read
New research suggests such surveillance systems may increase discipline disparities.
Motortion/iStock/Getty