METAMORA - Students and staff in the Evergreen Local School District have kicked off a campaign of caring with the "formal adoption" of a school in Long Beach, Miss., that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
For the next several months, Harper McCaughan Elementary School will receive assistance from the Evergreen Elementary School, such as through donations of books. Linking students together as pen pals will provide a personal connection, said Christina Huntzinger, special education teacher at the Evergreen school.
When she learned about the devastation of schools in the South, Miss Huntzinger wanted to adopt a school as a class project, but after talking with Principal Scott Lockwood and sending out a staff survey, it was decided to pursue the relief project as a school-wide effort.
Anne Ladner, a fourth-grade teacher at the Long Beach school, told The Blade that the "entire school is devastated and will have to be completely rebuilt." Before the hurricane, there were 22 students in her class, but she can locate only 10 of them now. Teachers' lives have been hard hit too. At Harper McCaughan, a dozen staff members are homeless.
"There is not one family in the Long Beach community that has not been affected by Hurricane Katrina, whether directly or indirectly. Long Beach is a small bedroom community in which many families are related. Some of our children have lost relatives, some have lost pets, some have lost homes, and all have lost their school," she said.
As they return to classes, "they will not be the same children that were there before Hurricane Katrina. Teachers will embrace them socially, emotionally, and educationally. But, not only do children need teachers, we need those children as well. Returning to school, although it will all be totally different, will provide both children and adults with a degree of normalcy and consistency."
Harper McCaughan resumed classes this week at another school's campus. Split sessions will be held until 23 mobile trailers arrive.
Right now, students have bookbags and supplies, but Mrs. Ladner said "school supplies are consumable and will need to be replenished throughout the year." The staff needs teaching materials and storage bins. "We are very fortunate to have a school provide assistance for us especially for the entire school year," she said.
This week the Evergreen Elementary School is seeking donations of school supplies and teaching materials. In November, the focus will be on American flags. "Every classroom would be without a flag," said Miss Huntzinger who noted it is "really symbolic" when schools can once again display flags. "It brings a sense of normalcy."
In December and January, area residents will be asked to adopt a book for the Long Beach school. Labels with donors' names will be placed in the books.
Miss Huntzinger is confident area residents will pitch in and make donations, but she's concerned about getting the items to that school and is looking for assistance with shipping.
Mr. Lockwood commended Miss Huntzinger for doing a " remarkable job with this project. She has made local contacts, organized committees, and designed our fund-raising activities so that they are educational. We believe that these efforts will go a long way to teach our students to become caring citizens."
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