By the Heartstone journalism class
Early this month, Hearthstone high school students Julian Bauchspies, Sierra Fleming, John Casper and Josh Casper left on a service trip to New Orleans with teachers Aron Weisgerber and Elizabeth Shaw and school director Jane Mullan.
The group’s travel expenses were partially paid for by a grant from the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, awarded for their willingness to help rebuilding efforts in New Orleans, which is still struggling to overcome the devastation of Hurricane Katrina five years ago.
The students also raised money for the New Orleans trip through beeswax candle sales (made by Sierra), bake sales (through the culinary arts class) and food sales at Hearthstone’s open mic event in March, and donations from families and friends of Hearthstone School.
The Hearthstone group’s rebuilding efforts included working with the St. Bernard Project, located in the St. Bernard Parish, an area that was under water for six weeks after the levees broke. While working there the students planted trees to help re-establish important ecosystems that were washed away in the flood waters.
The students spackled and painted walls, did trim and frame work, caulked and installed doors and windows in the homes of two women who have been out of their homes for five and a half years. They were both examples of people in the parish who had canceled their flood insurance one year prior to the levees breaking.
Many others found themselves without flood insurance after the levees broke for the same reason: FEMA changed the guidelines for residents in the St. Bernard Parish in 2004; the government no longer mandated that all residences of the parish must have flood insurance. Since the parish was a generally low-income neighborhood, many residents canceled their insurance to put food on the table.
While in New Orleans the students also helped rebuild the Waldorf School of New Orleans in its new building on higher ground in the Irish Channel District. The group also had the opportunity to experience real Cajun culture by attending a shrimp and crawfish boil, attending the French Quarter Music Festival, and taking a swamp tour in Slidell, La.
The final day in New Orleans was spent touring the waterways, marshes, bayous, diversions and levees with a cooperative extension agent from Louisiana State University. Students learned how important the wetlands of Louisiana are to hurricane protection for New Orleans and how important those wetlands are to the entire country.
The extension agent also showed the tour group where the levees broke in the lower Ninth Ward and told stories of how fast the water rose and what the people in the neighborhood heard and felt when the destruction began.
The lower Ninth Ward was the most heavily devastated area of New Orleans once the flood waters began to rise. The Xs still spray-painted on the outside of many of the houses that were not washed away in the flood served as a constant reminder of the devastation that Katrina and her aftermath caused. (The Xs were spray-painted by search and rescue groups to indicate when they checked a house, how many people were found inside each house alive or dead and which rescue group checked each house.)
“You could really feel the unity and the love the people of New Orleans developed since the catastrophic flooding and hurricane in 2005,” said Hearthstone teacher Shaw. “It is evident in the way the locals greet each other, the songs they sing, and the way they remember those who were lost in the storm’s aftermath.”
According to high school student Josh Casper, “It was a great learning experience, and possibly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, although I have high hopes of returning to New Orleans in the future to help with the rebuilding and experience the culture all over again.”