Blank Windows at Home and School
Today we feature a writing on the same theme of returning home to New Orleans after Katrina. This essay is by Tyeasha Green, who graduated from Douglass in June 2007. The story of Tyeasha’s graduation illustrates some of the struggles all students and schools have had in public education in the last two years.
As Tyeasha’s essay indicates, she was radically displaced from the community she calls home. What her essay does not mention are the disruptions in her educational life. Like all of us who teach and learn in New Orleans, Tyeasha had to leave New Orleans in the fall of 2005. In the fall of 2006, she enrolled as a senior at Frederick Douglass High School, because her pre-Katrina school, Carver Senior High, would not reopen.
On her first day in our class, students introduced themselves, including identifying their pre-Katrina high school. Tyeasha’s 20 plus classmates came from 12 different high schools. So not only was Tyeasha dealing with displacement from home and school, she was also in a setting where students from a variety of neighborhoods and backgrounds would be learning together.
Tyeasha and her classmates rose to the challenge beautifully. We began to identify the strengths of each of our neighborhood schools and to gain ideas about learning and life form each other. But in the back of our minds, and sometimes in the hallways of school and the pathways home, stresses and conflicts arose, adding one more difficulty to our already shattered lives.
Tyeasha faced transcript challenges as well. She and many of her senior classmates learned during the school year that some of their transcripts were not going to find their way to school. The Recovery School District, already struggling with running a system of schools for the first time and doing, like all of us, plenty of stumbling along the way, made valiant efforts to meet these students needs. In her spring semester, Tyeasha took “credit recovery” courses, staying after school every day to earn the additional credits she needed.
What should have been a senior year in which Tyeasha set an example for younger students at Carver Senior and Middle schools, which shared a campus, became a scramble to maintain sanity, find a new community, and graduate. Her essay, reprinted below, testifies to the insight, determination, and ability of young people who persevere in schools that are labeled “failing” and neighborhoods that no longer exist.
When I’m down or confused, I find myself driving back to Mazant Street and looking at the blank windows of my old apartment building.
I miss walking outside, always seeing somebody I know. It was like a family that you were born with. Because no matter whom you fussed with, fought with, liked or didn’t like, or anything like that, it didn’t matter. When you were hurt or someone was messing with you outside the neighborhood, the other Florida Project residents always had your back.
Yes, there were killings over the most stupid things like a dice game, a dogfight or the most stupid of them all “he said, she said” mess. But still the project was a place where people lived, learned how to bond, and understood what a community should be like. We learned how we should stick together as a black family and how we should respect other blacks as people not like dogs or someone you walk over and don’t care about. We learned not to mistreat other people just because we could.
My old neighborhood taught me so much. I would really hate to see it go. That’s why I hope that officials from New Orleans, the state, or the federal government do not tear down my old home. The project is a place where people can go and learn so many new things about the people who live there.
I feel that the city officials are not trying to tear the project down because they are old and non-live able. The officials say that they are tearing them down to stop the violence. This will never happen because the projects don’t kill. I wouldn’t even say that the residents in the project kill. People who kill can live anywhere, not only in the projects. People period kill people. I know this for a fact: projects do not kill people. For example right after the storm when New Orleanians started to come back to the city, there were killings going on while none of the projects were open.
The government officials should be building up not tearing down. Most of the teachers at my school are not even living in their old homes. A lot of them are staying on university campuses or with friends. Restaurants and other businesses are looking for workers, but most low income workers don’t have an affordable place to live.
It’s been over 18 months since Hurricane Katrina, but it feels like years. Now, people like me who love our old homes in the Florida and other projects are living in new neighborhoods. We have to deal with new schools and lots of loss—of people not just property. So we’re depressed, confused, and lost. And in the middle of those struggling feelings, we don’t have the old neighborhood and family support, which is really the main thing poor people like us have to keep us sane.