Inside New Orleans Schools, Part 2


This email was sent to me in September by someone who is a great inspiration. I have probably read it over 50 times and each time I read it it is just as powerful as the first time.

Hi Y'all,

I thought that this would be a good time to update you on the status of my new life as a teacher in New Orleans. Let me start off by saying, I was in no way shape or form prepared for what I have experienced over the past two weeks. I am going to give you the low lights first so that we can eventually end on a high note.

The first week of school went a little something like this...no schedules for students...35 kids in 2nd period and 1 in 4th period....fire alarm got pulled and we evacuated every day in either 4th or 6th...8 of my kids got suspended...our social worker gets punched in the head trying to break up two girls fighting...I was told by a student "I'm not afraid to pop a teacher, you better watch yourself when you're walking home"....I find out I have a 19 year old senior reading on a 2nd grade level, and a junior reading on a pre-k level...the majority of my seniors read on a 6 grade level.

Second week...200 new students start at the school...one of our guidance counselors gets fired for sabotaging all of the 9th and 10th grade schedules, so we only have one counselor working on all 600 schedules...the fire alarm keeps going off but we stop evacuating...there is a shooting across the street from school during lunch while all the juniors and seniors are outside...kids are terrified...fights break out left and right over where people live (ward wars)...on Friday the students light the school on fire, causing massive amounts of smoke on the second floor and all of us evacuate, the fire department is called...a 250 student riot starts outside (another ward war), the police are called...we bring all of the students inside to the cafeteria where a 30 person girl fight breaks out, and I have to physically pull a fellow teacher (and close friend) out of the epicenter, but not before she gets whacked in the head multiple times...multiple students get expelled.

This past week....only 1/3 of my students turn in their writing assignment that we worked on for 5 days in class (5 paragraph essay about their favorite musical artist)...one of my students doesn't come to school because he is embarrassed that his shirt is dirty...we write inspirational essays about times we've struggled and I learn the following: one student does not have enough money to eat, one student lost his brother to Katrina, one student's father was murdered while he was still a newborn in the hospital, one student's boyfriend was shot 7 times and killed last Tuesday, one student has two babies and had the last one c-section so she would not transmit her disease to her baby (this is just a small sampling)...on open house night at a school of 600 students a total of 8 parents showed up.

I know that is a lot of low lights and I wish I could say the highlight list would be just as long, but it's not. So here it goes, my students are the funniest, most creative and bright people I have ever met, they all understand the value of their education. They have more strength and perseverance in their pinkie fingers than we all have combined. My 19 year old student who reads on a second grade level re-wrote his essay so that he could get a higher grade, 11 students came in on the make-up day to present their essay to me. Every single one of my students in my college prep classes are currently writing college application essays and they are really good! I have some students who have not missed a singe day yet. Every parent that I have called has been responsive and supportive of their child. I have students who do not get up to leave when the bell rings because they are not finished writing!

My kids are amazing, but they are also in need, I do not have a library for my kids, and they desperately need one. Although they are seniors, I need books on a slightly lower level so that they do not get frustrated and quit (think harry potter, the BFG, Matilda, Babysitters club, The Giver, Hatchet to name a few). Also magazines, they love them, and if they are reading that's all that matters to me right now. I need your help! I am never one to ask for much, and I am not even asking for this for myself, but please if you have anything to give, anything at all they need it. Notebooks, loose leaf paper, binders, pens, books books and more books, backpacks (we don't have lockers)...ANYTHING!

If you can donate, please do, and send it to me at school:

Walter L. Cohen High School
Julie Murphy
3520 Dryades Street
New Orleans, LA 70115