Area schools step up to help hurricane victims

Students from all seven Magnolia and Queen Anne public schools rallied last week to help students driven out of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina.

They did that in each school on Sept. 22 by loading backpacks with school supplies for displaced students who ended up in Baton Rouge, said Joanne Testa-Cross, principal of John Hay Elementary School and president of the recently formed Successful Schools in Action, a non-profit umbrella organization that oversaw the relief effort.

"What we did," she said, "is the schools collected money." The original goal was to collect $14,000 in a week's time, an amount that would have been used to buy enough school supplies to fill 700 backpacks, which were donated by World Vision, Testa-Cross said. "And all of a sudden, the money started pouring in."

In fact, $30,000 was collected from students, their parents, local businesses and people who don't even have children in school yet, she said. "That's the thrilling part of this."

Faced with such a generous response, the Successful Schools group decided to fill up 1,000 backpacks with school supplies and use the balance to pay for uniforms, which all students wear in the East Baton Rouge Parish School District, Testa-Cross said.

The supplies, which included everything from paper and pencils to rulers and scissors, were purchased from Office Depot, which sold them at a big discount, Testa-Cross said.

"And they've been very helpful getting this quantity of material," she said, glancing around the atrium of Coe Elementary School as students used a checklist to collect supplies from tables and load them into backpacks. The students at all seven schools also wrote notes to their southern counterparts and included them in each backpack.

Terri Johnston, one of the founders of the Successful Schools organization, came up with the idea of sending the backpacks to Louisiana. A parent of students at both John Hay and McClure Middle schools, Johnston said she was prompted to start the relief effort when she called a friend in Baton Rouge, wondering if there was anything she could do to help.

She eventually ended up talking to the local school superintendent. "And she told me they'd already enrolled over 5,000 students from New Orleans," Johnston said. "And they literally had nothing but the clothes on their backs."

The goal of the Successful Schools organization is to foster a strong public-education system through a unified approach, she said. "And this just seemed like a natural first effort," Johnston said of the donation drive.

Indeed, principals at Coe, John Hay, McClure, Catharine Blaine School, Lawton Elementary, the Secondary Bilingual Orientation Center and the Center School were already getting calls from parents asking if there was anything they could do to help the New Orleans students, Testacross said.

The Successful Schools in Action effort fit the bill for both students and teachers, she said. "Oh, they love it. I think the teachers were happy there was an organized effort they could hook into."

Students like John Hay fourth-grader Andrew Gangnes also appreciated the opportunity. "I think this is a good idea," the Magnolia resident said, "and we need to do this for people who survived the hurricane. And they need to go to school."

All of the full backpacks were going to be delivered to Coe last Friday and trucked down to a Kent warehouse used by World Vision, which will take care of shipping the supplies to Louisiana, Johnston said. "They've been incredible," she added.[[In-content Ad]]