Although Hurricane Isaac brought misery to many parts of South Louisiana, a silver lining of sorts has emerged, according to the principals of Ascension of Our Lord and St. Joan of Arc schools, in hard-hit LaPlace: The principals are being reminded of just how much their students love and cherish their respective schools.
Despite being displaced to temporary lodging as distant as Baton Rouge, the administrators said nearly all students reported to school at both campuses Sept. 10, following a two-week, storm-forced hiatus.
“The children here at the elementary school were more worried about their school (remaining closed) than not being able to return than their own homes,” said Toni Ruiz, principal of Ascension of Our Lord, noting that about 75 of her school families were affected by flooding, including eight teachers.
“(The students’) first concern was about the school, because they knew that if it had flooded, they would have to go somewhere else and be taken from their friends and their comfort zone.”
Ruiz, who with school and parish staff visited the homes of as many families as possible after the storm to assess the specific needs of each, describes Ascension’s school family as a “remarkable” bunch.
“(The unaffected teachers and families) delivered food every day to people as they were cleaning or gutting,” Ruiz said. “We washed their clothes for them. We provided daycare for those who needed to drop off their children. We kept in constant contact,” said Ruiz, adding that many idle students served emergency meals in the school parking lot, helped with babysitting and sorted the many donations that flowed into Don Bosco Hall.
Larry Bourgeois, St. Joan of Arc’s principal, said Hurricane Isaac delivered an additional blow to a school year that had already had a “rough beginning” with the deaths of two local sheriff’s deputies, one of whom – Jeremy Triche – was a St. Joan of Arc alumnus. Bourgeois said he was impressed with his students’ resiliency and grace under pressure.
“When school started on Monday I was expecting it to be like the first day of school – a lot of crying and stress, a lot of difficulty getting back into the routine. But no! It a was a very calm day,” said Bourgeois, estimating that between a third and half of his school families had sustained flooding.
“They came back into their routine as though they had been in school for weeks,” he said. “There was a normal amount of absenteeism and no discernible difference in discipline. The only thing that we noticed was that the counselor was busier than usual because of the anxiety some of the students were going through.”
After offering his longest-commuting families the option of enrolling in a school closer to their temporary homes, all declined, Bourgeois said.
“They all said, ‘absolutely not, because the school represents what’s most normal in our lives right now.’”
As they did at Ascension of Our Lord, St. Joan of Arc students stepped up to volunteer as babysitters and grunt workers at their parish’s relief center. At press time, a teacher was trying to set up an after-school homework program so that recovering parents could get their children some extra academic attention. Four young adults, all former St. Joan of Arc athletes, are giving up their afternoons to coach the school’s football team, knowing that the regular coaches are busy with their own homes.
“They said they wanted our players to get back to practicing, rather than spending their time gutting homes,” Bourgeois said.
At the Sept. 13 school Mass, before students received their first opportunity of the school year to receive the sacrament of reconciliation, Father Garrett O’Brien, parochial vicar, compared the soul before confession to a flooded house: “kind of messy, kind of stinky and kind of embarrassing.”
“That’s what reconciliation is like; our souls are like a flooded home because we’ve let sin come in; our souls are now kind of messy, kind of stinky and kind of embarrassing, so were gonna go to reconciliation,” Bourgeois said, recalling Father O’Brien’s homily.
“Just as we work to clean up those flooded homes, confession is going to make our souls clean and fresh and better than they were before.”