Students Take Time Out for Mardi Gras

New Orleans West Elementary school in Houston took time out to bring Mardi Gras to the children. The students and staff are all Katrina evacuees. Houston Public Radio's Capella Tucker reports the books were put aside for a couple of hours in favor of King Cake, beads and floats.

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Colorful floats, including one with a picture of the school's principal, roll through the school's hallway out to the parking lot where the Mardi Gras parade is being held. Parents are catching beads and small stuffed alligators thrown by the students. New Orleans resident Angela Paige is pleased her five year old daughter is getting a taste of Mardi Gras, even if it's not exactly as it would have been in New Orleans.

"Every year we never missed a year from generation to generation all our families from all over came down for mardi gras. If we never seen each other for another holiday, mardi gras was the holiday."

But it won't be the case this year, only three family members are in Houston. Paige says a school of evacuees has made a difference for her daughter.

"Knowing you were around somebody who attended a school from New Orleans made you feel more comfortable because you know you could easily relate to what happened and what was going on. So yeah it was great, a great experience."

Renne Sanchell does plan to return to New Orleans, but she doesn't want to interrupt her son's education. The school's Mardi Gras event is replacing a family tradition.

"We would actually have a big family get together under the Clayborn bridge we would watch the parade."

The Sanchell family is spread out from Atlanta to Seattle. Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman happened to be in town and came by the school.

"It seems as though Harris County and the city of Houston have really opened up their arms and embraced the New Orleans residents that are here. It seems that they are well prepared and well equipped."

Principal Gary Robichaux can identify with the students. He and the teachers are all from New Orleans.

"I mean we want to keep the spirit of New Orleans here and we want the kids to remember the city that we all came from."

Robichaux says the school opened with 500 students. Enrollment is down to just under 350. Families have either movied back to New Orleans or moved to other parts of the country to be with family. Robichaux says they expect to see another drop in enrollment following Mardi Gras. Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.

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