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Finding Home at School


Welcome to the Students at the Center (SAC) blog, where teachers, students, graduates, and friends from our school-based writing and digital media program will reflect on our experiences in public education in New Orleans.

We hope you not only learn from but also enjoy this perspective from our daily teaching and learning in classrooms in two different public schools in New Orleans.

Our first selection is from Janay Barconey, who is currently a 12th grade student at McMain Secondary School, which she has attended since 7th grade, with the exception of Fall 2005 when the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina forced her to attend school in Texas for a semester.

Her writing reminds us of the importance of schools, particularly to young people experiencing personal and community trauma. Many of our students have thought and written extensively about the nurturing they receive when returning home to schools and communities they know and trust.

Katrina Homecoming
by Janay Barconey


New Orleans became dark and empty, when a wind full terror, Katrina, came through our joyful city. After three months passed, I had to go back to the place I called home.

While my mom was driving towards the house, I began pretending to fall asleep, because I didn’t want to see anything terrible. It was bad enough seeing houses sitting in the street and uprooted trees resting in the middle of the street.

I heard on the news, “The 9th Ward is the hardest hit.” “At least 10,000 people are going to die.” “The people are stranded.” “The levees broke.” As these news reports flashed through my mind, I worried that my house may be gone, even my life.

Then we arrived at our house. I popped up like a rabbit out of a hole, and I began searching; I noticed that my house wasn’t any different. We got out the car and walked up the stairs. My mom put her key in the door. My facial expression was of anxiety. I just couldn’t wait until my mom opened the door. I wanted to know all the answers to my questions. Finally, my mom opened it and Poof! Out of nowhere all the news stories came true. Everything in my house was a total loss.

I walked around in the living room, where nothing looked like it was living. I looked at the movement the water made. My sofa wasn’t the way it was. It was turned into the hallway and flipped back like a gymnast. Then the TV was almost into our mantle, but we had left it in front of the opposite window. I started walking towards my room, climbing over the sofa, and I smelt a green perfume coming from the kitchen. I began to gag and cough; the smell was so horrible that it could have been the main character in a horror movie.

I was in my room, with only the light shining through my windows, looking for pictures of my friends and me, but all I saw on the wall was a gray, dark line that was taller than me, and I’m 5’5”. I looked around the room; my computer was lying on the floor like a dead rat with its back to the ceiling. My bed wasn’t moved, but the bedposts were bent and looked like twigs breaking in half. Worst of all was my clothes. All of them were wet and moldy; they even had green perfume like the kitchen. After I saw all of that I left out the house and went in the car and played my game as if nothing happened. I went back for my house, but there wasn’t much to go back to. I realized that I was ready to go to school to find what I didn’t find at home, now just a house.

When I first heard that McMain was re-opening, I jumped like a kangaroo. But there was a different feeling when I walked up those old raggedy steps again. I began to have a flashback about the first time I came to high school, and the same feeling wished its way back. I thought to myself, “nobody that I know will be here.” I felt alone, but I was proved wrong.

I walked through the wide open door that just wanted me to come in, and I saw many of my friends waiting in line to get their schedules. All of my friends didn’t come back, but at least a handful did. Now, my disappointed and alone feeling left, and a rejoicing feeling entered my body. All of my emotions ran like a waterfall; I couldn’t stop, and I couldn’t do anything but be happy.

But every time I step out of McMain’s door, I feel the same way the city feels, dark and empty. I found my home, but it isn’t a city anymore. It is just a place needing some light. And if you are looking like me, you’ll find your little speck of light, even though it’s surrounded by the dark. Having something you needed is better than having nothing that you wanted.


This is a wonderful medium to publish the writings of our children. I admire your tenacity as you encourage the Students at the Center participants to share their stories with the world. I have been doing a related edweek blog, "Starting Over: A Post Katrina Education," since October. Congratulations for this new approach to teaching!

Thank you for writing this memoir. I do not know what the "green perfume" was, but I can only guess! Your final sentence will stay with me for a very long time - "Having something you needed is better than having nothing that you wanted." Whew! Thanks again, Janay.

I lived in N.O. for seven years, and I still miss it. One of the most compelling reasons for living there, and certainly for education in the city, was based on the good work going on in the public schools. As a past professor of English and Immediate Past Chair of the Department of English at Clemson University, I am wowed by the writing I've just read above, not only by the commitment of the students to what they recognize as a time already passing, but in their drive to keep communities strong, and education intact.

I loved the public schools in N.O, and my best friend taught in several, so I knew the personalities of many of them. I hate to read that these communities are losing ground because of Katrina. But what I do love is that students are voicing what is lost, eloquently, descriptively, beautifully above.

I feel as if the city needs to listen to the students themselves, those who dreamed of attending Douglass when others were pushing them towards schools more "acceptable" to a community that the students themselves do not belong to. And I love reading the student perspective.

One of the best things about Students in the Center, is that it gives students the power to decipher what they want, and to present the argument responsibly in writing. Now that's learning.

What I read above on this Tuesday inspires and depresses me. I'm inspired by these students' perspectives, so beautifully conveyed. And I'm depressed that their choices are being taken from them by a government that pretends to value them by taking away their rights and ignoring their opinions.

As a member of the Bread Loaf Teacher Network, I have had the privilege to see SAC in action, to meet SAC staff and graduates, and to work in a professional development conference with them and New Orleans teachers. SAC has become an inspiration for teachers and students in the public schools of Lawrence, MA, New York City and Oakland CA, three cities where our network is active.

I want to thank SAC, and especially SAC students, for posting these Ed Week articles. Once again, they not only provide teachers and students with the truth about what has and is happening in New Orleans, but also with the inspiration we all need to continue the struggle for equity and justice in public education.

For any educator who is serious about being an actvist in education, I suggest you visit SAC and see them in action. Our work with them has transformed us as people and as a network. They have given us both the practical pedagogies and the spiritual capability we needed to move our work forward.

Lou Bernieri
Coordinator, Bread Loaf Teacher Network.


What wonderful coverage for the work that you and your students are doing! I've had the good fortune of seeing SAC grow and develop in this remarkable way, and it's a pleasure to see that--despite incredible challenges--all of you are determined to do the high quality work that you are noted for doing. The world should indeed know and appreciate your excellence. Thanks for the inspiration!

Jackie Royster
Executive Dean
Colleges of the Arts and Sciences
The Ohio State University

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Jackie Royster: Jim, What wonderful coverage for the work that you and read more
  • Lou Bernieri: As a member of the Bread Loaf Teacher Network, I read more
  • Mark Charney: I lived in N.O. for seven years, and I still read more
  • Ceci Lewis: Janay, Thank you for writing this memoir. I do not read more
  • Roslyn J. Smith: Jim, This is a wonderful medium to publish the writings read more



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