Besides touring the area and working at the Operation Reach office, we've been working with students at Fischer Elementary School on the West Bank. Our main project is running an afterschool program for students in grades 3-8. Each afternoon from 2:30 to 5 or 5:30 we supervise 15-20 students, playing indoor games, working on art projects, and playing outside. This setting makes it pretty easy to speak with the students one-on-one or in small groups.
During the day, we've been chaperoning field trips. This week students in grades 3-8 are taking the LEAP tests, a standarized test that determines if students can progress to the next grade. Wanting a quiet atmosphere, the school administration has arranged field trips for the younger kids. On Tuesday, we accompanied students to the Louisiana Children's Musueum, today to the Audobon Zoo, and tomorrow to Chuck E. Cheese (fun, fun!). Each student's experience has been really different so far. Some are in charge of five or more kids, while others have three students to supervise between two chaperones. It has been challenging, but lots of fun, too.
Our trip has allowed us to confront and explore a number of issues. First, our work in the schools has challenged us to examine the differences between the lives of many of us on the trip and the lives of some New Orleans residents. For example, disciplinary techniques are quite different from those we may be used to, and it takes some time to get used to the ways teachers and parents speak with the students. The children's play is also much more violent than many of us are used to, and we had a great debate about cultural relativism and individual values. Another topic of discussion is race, class, and the impact of the storm. A brief visit to the lower 9th ward, especially when contrasted with the other areas of town we'd seen, made it very clear that Katrina was not merely a "natural disaster," but rather a perfect illustration of the ways in which our nation has distributed power unequally. That same visit brought up issues of voyuerism and tourism in New Orleans and caused us to seriously question our motiviations and intentions, as well as our sensitivity to residents and survivors.
We look forward to our last few days in the city and we plan to take a couple of tours, see a play about Hurricane Katrina, and enjoy our time in this wonderful city.
See you soon!
Hannah and Allison