Hundreds of New Orleans-area children displaced by Hurricane Katrina are back in school thanks in part to a whirlwind partnership linking Colby students, faculty, staff, and alumni with the organization Teach for America.
Colby's Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement and student leaders began fund-raising efforts soon after the hurricane hit, deciding early on to steer aid directly to primary and high school students, said L. Sandy Maisel, William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Government and Goldfarb Center co-director.
Including matching funds allocated by President William D. Adams, the Colby community raised $25,000 from faculty, staff, and students. "I was really thrilled with the committee we called upon," said Claire Walsh '06, co-chair of the the Goldfarb Center Student Advisory Board. "People were running tables at every meal, constantly meeting about publicity. That was awesome."
In addition, nine Colby students will volunteer at the new school, New Orleans West (NOW) College Prep, during Jan Plan. The Jan Plan is offered by Professor of Education Mark Tappan, who was to join the students there. Tappan is involved in groundbreaking mentoring programs for Waterville-area boys.
Colby's involvement grew quickly with the help of Lewis Krinsky '65 of Houston, a longtime supporter of Teach for America efforts in that area. Krinsky, a personal friend of Maisel, learned of the efforts to open a school for displaced New Orleans children living in Houston, and he agreed to serve as liaison between organizers there and Colby. "I knew there'd been a New Orleans [Teach for America] corps that had been displaced," Krinsky said. "It was almost a perfect fit."
The NOW College Prep students were among thousands of New Orleans-area residents evacuated to Houston. Teachers also had fled the hurricane and flooding and had scattered to other parts of the country, said Peter Cook, program director for Teach for America--Greater New Orleans. When it was decided to open a school for the New Orleans children, one of the first tasks was moving teachers to Houston. "Colby's very generous donation helped get all the teachers settled and ready for school."
With $875,000 in private donations, and other state and federal aid, the new school was opened in a former elementary school near downtown Houston. Students were recruited from the Astrodome, Reliant Center, and other places where New Orleans residents have been housed. Administrators were provided by the KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) organization of charter schools, and the entire teaching staff was drawn from the Teach For America corps, Cook said.
"It's kind of like a great experiment," he said. "We basically started a charter school in one month."
The incentive, he said, was to get children into classrooms. "At least it's stability in their lives," Cook said. "They have a routine after all of the chaos."