Thousands of Louisiana and Mississippi students were set to begin school last week when Hurricane Katrina wiped out their schools and homes. They need somewhere to go.
Georgetown Preparatory School moved quickly to answer that call, offering 20 tuition-free spots to high school students from Jesuit High School in New Orleans. As of Sept. 2, 10 students had accepted the offer and were set to begin classes Sept. 6.
“When the storm was bearing down … I had been watching things develop and was kind of anticipating … the kinds of things might happen,” said the Rev. Richard McCouch, chaplain and superior of the Jesuit community at Georgetown Prep. “I just wanted us to be prepared to be thinking of something — we didn’t know what would happen — but to be thinking of something.”
“Schools traditionally in a disaster may have a clothing drive, a food drive, may raise money,” said Brian Gnatt, communications director for Georgetown Prep, but the school wanted to do something more immediate.
It contacted the Jesuit Secondary Education Association, which connected it with Jesuit High School. The New Orleans School was “totally flooded out” according to Gnatt and its headmaster had not been heard from following the storm.
“The Jesuit organization is a real kind of tight-knit group. … there’s this real sense of brotherhood,” Gnatt said, and though Prep is already technically at full enrollment, it moved quickly to find as many spaces as it could for the New Orleans students.
The displaced students were accepted without providing transcripts, a normal requirement for admission that would be impossible given the destruction of the school and city.
The tuition waiver will cost the school — a non-profit organization — hundreds of thousands of dollars. Annual tuition at Prep is about $20,000.
Most of the displaced students have come to the Washington area to live with friends or family, though Prep families have also offered to host some students, and the school’s boarding facilities — where 100 of its 447 students live — may also take some of the refugees.
Georgetown Prep’s effort is important only in the context of a larger response from the Jesuit community, and the nation, McCouch said.
“It’s just a drop in the bucket in a sense, but if we’re included with many others it has kind of a cumulative effect,” he said.
He recalled the response in the Georgetown Prep community to the Asian tsunami last December, which he said was immediate and heartfelt, but different from the reaction to Katrina.
“Those were very far away and with people they really wouldn’t know. Here it was much more immediate,” McCouch said. “People are calling — students, teachers, parents — saying, ‘What can we do, what can we do?’”
Gnatt said that hosting the Jesuit High School students would be a positive experience for Prep’s own students.
“Service is a big component of what we do here,” he said. “They’ll be living this service project all year, with having these students here.”