Big Bucks for Local Districts To Help Evacuee Students

Two local school districts will receive more than $5 million in donations from several Houston foundations and corporations, money to be spent on addressing the unique needs of evacuee students from Louisiana. Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports.

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The two districts, the Houston and Alief districts, have absorbed the greatest number of evacuee students since last last year, with thousands still enrolled in classes nearly 8 months after Katrina's devastation. Those two districts will get upwards of $5 million to help educate those students, which has been an expensive proposition. Former First Lady Barbara Bush's Texas Fund for Family Literacy gave $1 million.

"With their lives turned upside down, these students are struggling to keep up and sometimes even to attend school. While many of them have gone home, two school districts, Houston and Alief, are home to more than 8000 hurricane evacuee students. The strain on our schools and teachers has been tremendous."

One of those students, Sjor' Monique Winbush lost her home to Katrina and is now a sophomore at Westbury High School. She says it hasn't been easy adjusting to a new city and a new school, but she's glad she's here.

"The transition, it's been difficult at first to adjust to the different areas of classes and different cultures around me but eventually you get the hang of things and that's what I've basically done, got the hang of lots of things in school that I wasn't used to in New Orleans, but got the hang of it right off the bat because I'm a fast learner."

The money will be used for programs to help Katrina evacuee students get used to their new lives in Houston and to help them achieve different academic standards in place here. HISD Superintendent Dr. Abe Saavedra says the funds will go a long way toward making the students feel welcome.

"It helps us support these students that need additional services. Many of them are doing extremely well, actually most of them are doing extremely well. We've gotten a lot of publicity about the challenges that we've had with the relationships among these students but most of the students that we have received from Louisiana are good kids. They need some additional services to move up academically. We want to be able to provide them those services."

Houston Mayor Bill White says it's no surprise to him that the city is opening its arms and pocketbooks to help evacuee students.

"This is really about rebuilding lives, not just about rebuilding places. Americans can move around, cities have grown or shrunk in population. A lot of people from the devastated area, able bodied adults, are finding work here. Their kids are getting used to the schools here. There's still a gap with some of the kids in attainment, but this helps us close that gap."

The Houston Katrina-Rita Fund, The Bush-Clinton Houston Katrina Fund, Shell Corporation and Marathon Oil all contributed to the fund.

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