A morning news story about housing strikes in New Orleans and the lingering effects of Hurricane Katrina are what sent twelve urban city DC high school kids and one passionate art teacher to this city to make a difference. Little did they know this endeavor would evoke change and serve as a catalyst to equip kids to be the social agents of their world.
What hinders our students’ progress is a lack of varied experience and a corresponding lack of wide-ranging social and cultural interaction. Simply put, our students often tell us that they have never used a hammer, ridden a bike, learned to swim, or traveled outside their communities. These deficiencies often leave them ill-equipped to deal with curriculum in classes such as English, History, Government, and Language, topics that are essential background for effective and rewarding civic engagement.
That is why we want to take our students to New Orleans to learn, build, and grow as we aid in the rebuilding process for communities still feeling the impact of Hurricane Katrina.
What happens on the actual trip?
Last year, while in the city of New Orleans the group of 31 students and 5 adults worked for three full days. Some worked on mold removal at one site while others hung drywall at another location. During the two following days we all worked together to paint and clean a school that was opening in the fall. Working with a school was a new experience for us since previously, we had always worked on houses. Both our students and staff were able to learn a lot about the school system in New Orleans and the struggles of students and parents to find quality schools.
Also while in New Orleans, we toured the French Quarters to get a feel of the atmosphere and culture, visited The House of Dance and Feathers, which is a museum built in the back of a native’s backyard to express his passion for the city and how the storm impacted him. We also visited the Lower Ninth Ward that was hit head on by the storm.
We spent our last day in New Orleans working with the Neighborhood Story Project and teacher candidates at the University of New Orleans to write our own educational autobiographies. We spent the whole day reflecting on our own educations and outlining what we believe educational justice looks like. All of our stories, as well as the adults who worked with us, will be published online through Blurb.
One of the best parts of the trip is our nightly dinners and reflections. We spend time talking about our days and what we learned. Student teachers also get to demonstrate their leadership skills by ensuring everyone does their chores and looks out for their mentee/mentor.
What happens after the trip?
The second part of the program is the “Back” aspect of it. Before we traveled this year we planned and implemented a Community Action Project where sophomore students in the program learn about housing and education policies. When it comes to strengthening a community, there’s not only something going on in housing policy, but also in school policy. The sophomores heard from many speakers over the course of the Community Action Project to help them expand their knowledge of housing and school policy. Two of the many speakers came from HUD’s Choice Neighborhood Program. Choice Neighborhood is a program where they choose struggling neighborhoods and help them by funding money to help with affordable housing. The federal government assists by providing the Housing Choice Voucher to low-income families, elderly, and disabled people. It is good for a community to have families with different incomes, so that everyone can learn from everyone. Another way of strengthening a community is revitalizing homes or apartments. Choice Neighborhood helps with this as well.
The juniors of the program did fellowship in connection with the program for the first time this year. The juniors’ job was to return back to Cesar Chavez -Parkside Campus to film public service announcements that we planned with a group of 6th graders. In May, everyone in the program traveled to Chavez Parkside in order to help this group of 6th graders advocate for a recreational center in their community. Other than just recording the PSAs, they learned how to edit them and create op-eds to help the students further advocate.
So what do our students gain?
If all of the experiences and lessons about history, home building and public policy aren't enough, here a few key skills our students gain from this trip:
- Communication skills: A vital part of this program is learning how to reflect on the daily lessons.
-Team Building: While in New Orleans, students have to share a room with at least three people, make lunch for a mentee or mentor and do manual work together.
- Committment: While In DC, we spend Thursdays and various Saturdays together, fundraising or creating art, for a bigger and better purpose. We have a tent at Eastern Market in DC where we sell art work. Come visit us!
How you can help:
It takes a lot of resources to take our students to New Orleans each year and we need your help! This trip provides an opportunity of a life-time for our inner city students and you can help us continue to make that a possibility by donating to and sharing our cause!
A special thank you to our continued supporters: Fragers hardware, The Shippy Foundation, Freddie Mac, Cesar Chavez Public Charter High School, Center for cities and school, American University, The Neighborhood Story Project, Eastern Market, French Quarter Suites, Jeff Thruston, Jeff Casimir, Gregory Scott, Toni George