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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

more photos from today

coffee grounds and fertilizer for the composting bin that the students are building

Turn the soil. Pull out the rocks. Pull out the glass. Repeat.

Turner and Sam at Fair Grinds Coffeehouse.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

NY2NO updates

Yesterday NY2NO organizers meet with Jenga Mwendo of the Lower Ninth Ward Urban Farming Coalition and canvassed in the lower ninth ward. They were talking with residents about CSAs.

Today we gutted the house behind the school.

We also met with Pam Broom with the New Orleans Food and Farm Network. We talked about sustainability, worms and composting and plans for how to bring community gardens into our neighborhoods.

Monday, December 29, 2008

NY2NO is in Town

This week about 30 high school students from New York, who are with the NY2NO coalition, are in New Orleans working with various community organizations in the Lower Ninth Ward. In short, they are spending a week learning. Many have not been to New Orleans before and many who have, have not done the projects the exact projects that we're working on. Below are pictures and there are more to come I'm sure.

working for a better compost bin

it may look like playing in a sandbox, but as soon as the debris is gone this will be our garden

greens in a tub is a good start

gutting the neighbor's house: this was nearly knee high in debris

of course, Diamond is making sure everything is running smoothly

Friday, December 19, 2008

Tilling the soul

Gordon, from, came out today and tilled the soul. I say soul because the autotype on my blackberry often confuses the word soil for the word soul. But aren't they somehow the same?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Recent Improvements

We have put in a couple of top plates.

Also, please welcome our newest additions to the family, Racquel and her beautiful, beautiful 8 month old daughter Cherish.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Brooklyn students blog about their visit with us

Last week students from the Brooklyn School for Global Studies visited our school. Here is some of what they wrote:

My experince in new orleans was a great experince. First off it was my first time riding in a plane which was pretty cool. Being away from my family for more than a day was pretty hard,but I got to spend it with another family I call the New Orleans family. Most upsetting moment was to see that most of the houses were still destroyed and not yet rebuild after 3yrs,which was ridiculous.

To read more about the trip visit their blog at:

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Working on the building

This week we have been working on the building: changing top plates on top of the cinder blocks; pulling nails on reclaimed wood; and, finishing the last little bits of demolition;

Here the students are working with our friend John Suttcliff fixing the top plates (they connect the roof and ceiling wood to the cinderblock base.

Working with students from New York

This week we are learning with students from The Brooklyn School for Global Studies. On Monday we went on an environmental justice ride to various sites throughout the city looking at the the relationship between factors such as food access, relative levee protection, population demographics (like race, class, homeownership, etc.), post-Katrina reconstruction and repopulation, relative environmental health (chemical spills, air quality, etc.), access to recreational areas, quality of schools, access to employment, access to healthcare.

Here is what some of the students wrote:

I had so much fun tour the city to the NY students ,but we viewed the lower nine levees and the walls that want stand. Then we tour them the lake front showing they could not protect there city or town. Then we view the school of blear grocery.

Terrance, 17

We started the tour off by going to get all of the kids from New York. Then we loaded the bus up and went to our first stop by the levees and Mr. Turner explained to them how the levees wouldn't stay up for a strong hurricane and how many houses where destroyed and people asked questions. At the second stop we went to the Cypress Swamp and saw how everything was gone and destroyed .The 3rd stop was at Lake Front at that stop I learned something I never knew. I learned that the levees at the lake front or in the stairs the water would come up the stairs and bounce back down. Our last stop was at our school Turner Community School we showed them a tour of our school and how we or going to build it. But the most importantly thing to me was the lock that was on the stairs at Lake Front during the hurricane it wasn't suppose to be locked but it was when its not locked it prevent water from coming. I learned a lot of things I didn't know yesterday.

Shawntrice, 15

Today we met again with the students from New York and discussed a recent article from the New York Times “Many Children Lack Stability Long After Storm”(12/5/2008).

The conversation that followed was fast and furious but here are some tidbits from a conversation between three of them.

About schools and talking with the New York students:

I learned a lot from those kids today. Some of the things they were saying I wasn't feeling. Whatever go on at home is what will happen at school. Some of the them [the teachers] be a-------, some of them be alright.

It's two different sides of the story, they gotta listen to ours and we gotta listen to theirs.

It was alright but you all be making sound like we poor. I mean they do treat us bad down here but it ain't down here only.

Say like Douglass [High School], it really does have good teachers. Someone could graduate from Douglass and become a lawyer. But they do have some teachers who go there just to get paid, and tell you you won't ever be nothing. If you go to school to be a class clown than why be there and I agree with that. A lot of people down here aren't slow they just want to be down. I wanted to be down but being down with these people aint gonna help me graduate, aint gonna help me get where I want to get and meet my goals. It all starts at home.

About the food that people eat on a day to day basis and how we live:

You know why kids eat donuts and honey buns all the time, it's like they momma on the run and jobs and places to be. They don't have time to be making grits and eggs and sausage.

It's good that we live together and our other little family live next door.We are togethedr and can take care of each other and that's good.

If you live with your family its your family that brings you down.

So if your daddy did dirt that doesn't mean you gotta do dirt, but dirt can get back on you. Just cuz you around bad people don't have to act bad but then sometimes it come on you anyway.

About Terrance's insistence that we eat at Manchu's because “they have the best chicken in New Orleans”:

I learned that Mr. Turner has a problem with bad food.

On the possibility of working in the community to change conditions:

Some people don't care and they feel like you can't tell them what to do.

In the 21st century young people don't listen to nobody. If the teacher try to tell they to be quiet then they tell the teacher to shut up because my momma don't tell me to be quiet.

New York Times article worth reading

December 5, 2008

Many Children Lack Stability Long After Storm

BATON ROUGE, La. — Last January, at the age of 15, Jermaine Howard stopped going to school. Attendance seemed pointless: Jermaine, living with his father and brother in the evacuee trailer park known as Renaissance Village since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, had not managed to earn a single credit in more than two years.

Not that anyone took much notice. After Jermaine flunked out of seventh grade, the East Baton Rouge School District allowed him to skip eighth grade altogether and begin high school. After three semesters of erratic attendance, he left Baton Rouge in early spring of this year and moved in with another family in a suburb of New Orleans, where he found a job at a Dairy Queen.

A shy, artistic boy with a new mustache, Jermaine is one of tens of thousands of youngsters who lost not just all of their belongings to Hurricane Katrina, but a chunk of childhood itself.

After more than three years of nomadic uncertainty, many of the children of Hurricane Katrina are behind in school, acting out and suffering from extraordinarily high rates of illness and mental health problems. Their parents, many still anxious or depressed themselves, are struggling to keep the lights on and the refrigerator stocked.

For some, like Kearra Keys, 16, who was expelled from her Baton Rouge school for fighting and is now on a waiting list for a G.E.D. program, what was lost may be irretrievable. For others, like Roy Hilton, who stands a head taller than his third-grade classmates, recovery may lie in the neighborhood school near the New Orleans duplex where his family has finally found a home.

The families profiled in this series were among the last to leave Renaissance Village when the Federal Emergency Management Agency closed it in May. The government was trying to nudge the poorest, least-educated and sickest evacuees toward self-sufficiency — or at least toward agencies other than FEMA.

More than 30,000 former trailer residents landed in apartments paid for by the federal government until March 2009, a small fraction are in the hands of private charities or government housing programs for the disabled, and thousands more simply traded in their trailers for other temporary quarters. Case managers promised by FEMA to help these families find permanent homes have yet to start work in Louisiana.

Many of the adults are at least partly victims of their own poor choices. But the children are another matter. For them, the experts prescribe the one thing that has been hardest to obtain: stability. Their parents sometimes work against that goal.

Jermaine’s father, Joseph Griffin, has had trouble holding on to steady work and said he did not see much value in his son’s attending school this semester because he had already missed so much class. “If he doesn’t get no credits for it, what sense does it make for him to sit up in there?” Mr. Griffin said. “I was going to try to get him a job.”

The health problems of Hurricane Katrina children are daunting. When the Children’s Health Fund, whose mobile health clinics have provided the only doctors and psychologists available to many of these families, reviewed the charts of children seen this year, researchers with the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University found that 41 percent under age 4 had iron-deficiency anemia — twice the rate for children in New York City’s homeless shelters. Anemia, often attributable to poor nutrition, is associated with developmental problems and academic underachievement.

Forty-two percent of the children, who lived in trailers laced with dangerous levels of formaldehyde, had allergic rhinitis or an upper respiratory infection, the study found.

More than half of those ages 6 to 11 had a behavior or learning problem, yet in the East Baton Rouge School District children can wait for as long as two years to be tested for learning disabilities.

“Not only has their health not improved since the storm,” the study said, “over time it has declined to an alarming level.”

Medical care, counseling and child care are hard to find. In that respect, LaTonya London has been lucky. Her youngest children, born while the family lived at Renaissance Village, have two of the 16 Early Head Start slots — down from 200 right after the storm — reserved for evacuees of Hurricane Katrina in Baton Rouge. The baby, Edbony, was born with no forearms. Darren, 2, was two months premature and suffers from asthma and delayed speech.

The eldest of Ms. London’s five children, Darrell, 7, has developed behavior problems so serious that he has already been suspended several times from first grade, causing Ms. London to abandon plans to start vocational training, she said. In response, she has resumed counseling sessions for Darrell at the mobile clinic.

Dr. Irwin Redlener, the director of the Children’s Health Fund, notes that there is as yet no comprehensive method of tracking these children, who are supposed to be the subject of a long-term study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The key to giving these children a future, doctors and educators have long said, is providing them with a sense of stability — a home that seems permanent, a school where they can put down roots. The recommendation is underscored by the gains made by those families that have found a toehold.

After months of looking, Laura Hilton, who is functionally illiterate, finally found an apartment in New Orleans for her and her two sons, George, 17, and Roy, 11, that was within walking distance of Roy’s school. Laura’s husband was murdered in New Orleans after the storm, and at the trailer park the Hilton children attended school only fitfully. Roy was known for being both endearing and utterly ungovernable.

Now Roy, who is at least three grades behind and needs special education, tutoring and counseling, can hardly be persuaded to leave school when the last bell rings. He helps teachers on their work days and shows up for Saturday detention even when he has not misbehaved. He fights less, and recently volunteered to sit in the principal’s office at recess to keep from getting into trouble and losing his field-trip privileges.

“When he first came in, I was like, ‘Why me?’ ” Wanda Brooks, the principal at the James Weldon Johnson Elementary School, said. “As a school, you’re frustrated — why didn’t somebody look at this when he was 10?” But then she got to know Roy.

“They begin to talk to you, and you begin to realize what the child went through,” Ms. Brooks said. “He has not gotten over his dad’s death.”

Roy has received special attention from a male role model, Edward Williams, the football coach at Johnson. On a recent morning, Mr. Williams went into Roy’s classroom to find him sulking at his desk while the other children practiced a dance routine.

Drawing Roy aside, Mr. Williams told him: “You got to get up and move around. You got to try.”

Moments later, Roy was dancing.

But life outside the trailers has not been a relief for every child. With its white tent that served as a community center, Renaissance Village reeked of impermanence, though for many young children who lived there it was almost the only home they had known.

Since the park closed, Adrian Love and her father, Alton, have moved into a Baton Rouge apartment (her mother, a crack user, lives in New Orleans). Mr. Love, who has not been able to hold a job since the storm, does not allow Adrian, 9, to play outside much, instead writing out long-division problems for her in a notebook after dinner.

On Adrian’s first report card this year, she got straight A’s. But she sees her friends from Renaissance Village only rarely. “I wish I still lived there,” she said.

Despite her wistfulness, Adrian projects a poise that makes her seem resilient.

Children who had no serious problems before the storm are likely to recover well, said Toni Bankston, who until recently was the director of mental health at the Baton Rouge Children’s Health Project. But, she estimated, only about 60 percent fall into that category.

Ms. Bankston has particularly grave concerns about the children who have fallen so far behind in school that there is little chance of their catching up. “What you’re looking at is our future juvenile justice, our prison population,” she said.

In October, Jermaine Howard returned to Baton Rouge and moved into the one-bedroom apartment occupied by his father, brother and grandmother. With the help of Sister Judith Brun, a nun who has been working with evacuees since the storm, he enrolled in ninth grade at Broadmoor High School.

That process alone provided a snapshot of the chaos of Jermaine’s life. From several plastic baggies and a dented metal canister, the family could barely amass the documents needed to prove his address.

School administrators balked when they discovered that he had previously been registered under his father’s last name, Griffin, not the name on his birth certificate. Jermaine, with tears in his eyes, was forced to explain that his mother was in prison. He was told to pay a visit to the ominous-sounding Board of Hearings. Then came the kicker: because he had already missed so much, he would receive no credit for this semester.

“Nice to see y’all,” the school guidance counselor said by way of welcome. “Just too bad it wasn’t about three months ago.”