First lady Laura Bush and U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings dropped into three schools along the Gulf Coast last week to encourage students, parents, and educators in a region where many people still cannot return to their homes or workplaces.
Before stopping here Jan. 26 at Hancock East Central Elementary School, about 50 miles northeast of New Orleans, Mrs. Bush and Ms. Spellings visited Alice M. Harte Elementary School in the Crescent City, and St. Bernard Unified School—the only public school open in flood-wrecked St. Bernard Parish, La.
The first lady joined professional-football star Brett Favre and five students here in dedicating a school playground built by volunteers and Kaboom!, a Washington-based nonprofit organization that aims to build playgrounds across the country and 100 new play areas along the hurricane-battered Gulf Coast.
Mrs. Bush told an outdoor crowd of roughly 200 volunteers who had spent the day erecting the new playground—plus students, parents, and school officials—that the region still can use plenty of volunteers in cleanup and rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina, which pummeled the region in late August.
Volunteering in the region would “be a great way to spend your spring break from high school or college,” she said.
Parents and students at the elementary school said they had been raising money for playground equipment that was to replace the old swing sets that Mr. Favre, a Mississippi native and the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, had used as a youngster. The storm had not knocked down the equipment.
“There are so many children living in [Federal Emergency Management Agency] trailers, and they don’t have anywhere to go play. There’s not even a playground in the county,” said Jennifer Fagan, the mother of two students and the 800-student school’s parent-teacher organization president.
More Aid Coming
Two schools in the 3,900-student Hancock County school district—based in a community most local residents pronounce “The Kill”—were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters.
The two relocated campuses are inside portable classrooms beside the local middle school, and they need new playgrounds, too. Dozens of other schools in the area had campuses rendered useless by the storm.
Ms. Spellings said in a brief interview beside the playground that she understood many Gulf Coast schools are struggling financially, and that she hoped aid approved by Congress late last year is making its way to them.
“More aid is to come here very shortly, for the sole purpose of understanding that there is no tax base [to pay for public schools in the region],” the secretary said.