It has been a long and trying two weeks for nine-year-old Justis Midura. After fleeing his home in New Orleans, and briefly staying in Atlanta, he now finds himself surrounded by all new faces at Jamestown Elementary School and living with his parents and two siblings in a cramped basement.
But the only complaint the poised and sanguine fourth grader has is that his mother didn’t let him bring the family computer with them when they evacuated before Hurricane Katrina assaulted the city.
“I miss my school but the teachers and kids here are pretty nice,” said Justis, watching his five-year-old sister Sophie run around the school playground after classes ended last Friday.
“They seem to be adjusting quite well,” said Jamestown Elementary School Principal Laura Annan Glascoe.
Justis, Sophie and brother Redding, 10, are among the twelve students displaced by Hurricane Katrina who have enrolled in nine Arlington schools, with most of them attending the first day of classes, said Arlington Superintendent Robert G. Smith. Other students from Gulf Coast communities could be arriving in the coming days, school officials said.
Schools are providing counselors and many operate mentoring or buddy systems to help ease the children's transitions.
“The best assistance we can offer for the children right now is the return to a familiar routine of attending school while families begin the difficult task of rebuilding their lives,” Smith said.
Under the provisions of the McKinney-Vento Act, homeless students can attend school even if they do not have birth, health or scholastic records.
Five students from New Orleans area colleges have begun classes at Marymount University. The school advertised on its Web site that it was accepting evacuees and received more than 20 inquiries. Marymount is providing lodging at an Arlington hotel as well as supplying counseling assistance, financial support and academic advising to ensure that course work is transferable to home universities, said Chris Domes, Marymount’s vice president for enrollment and student services.
“We want to respond and do everything to help students of this terrible tragedy,” Domes said. “We made the decision to accommodate as many as we could.”
ONE STUDENT FROM New Orleans has begun classes at George Mason University School of Law in Arlington and others may follow, a school spokeswoman said.
The Midura children had already been in school for more than a week when the family heeded evacuation warnings from city officials and drove to a friend’s house in Atlanta.
Margie Finn, Shelly Midura’s undergraduate roommate from Georgetown, invited Jonathan and Shelly Midura to move in with the Finns and their four children. She arranged for Justis and Sophie to enroll in Jamestown Elementary School and Redding in Williamsburg Middle School.
“Margie called the principals and right away they made room for them,” said Shelly Midura, who lived in Arlington in the mid-90s when she worked for the State Department. “They bent over backwards for us.”
For Justis life is slowly returning to normal. He has already made a few friends at Jamestown and finally was able to talk to his best friend from New Orleans on the phone after not having any contact with him since Katrina came ashore.
“Everything is the same as before: My brother is still the same bully and my sister still screams all the time,” Justis said “And I’m still the middle one [who] gets bossed around and blamed for everything.”
The Miduras will be living in Arlington at least through end of the school semester but might move back to New Orleans if the private school the children attended is fully functioning.
“Emotionally it's hard for me to let go of the community and realize it will never be like it was,” Shelly Midura said. “But I want to go back and run for city office. This is a chance to make a real difference.”
When kindergartener Adrian Emmett-Mattox arrived in Arlington from New Orleans last week, it was less of an anxious new beginning than a joyful homecoming. Adrian and his parents, Liz and Steve, had moved to the Big Easy from Arlington in July.
Before the storm struck, the family fled to Liz’s sister’s house in Athens, Texas. Once they realized the extent of the damage they were eager to have Adrian begin school in a comfortable environment and were able to find lodging with friends in Arlington.
At Glebe Elementary School, Adrian has been reunited with many of his old playmates.
“This is sort of like a vacation for him and an endless slumber party," said Liz Emmett-Mattox. “He is taking it like a champ. But yesterday he said it’s hard to sleep when you’re not in your own house.”
The family plans to stay at least through the end of the year before re-assessing the feasibility of returning to New Orleans.
Caroline Fanger, who was a junior at Loyola College in New Orleans, has been surprised by the overwhelming support structure in place when she arrived at Marymount. The school was able to enroll her in classes that will count toward her marketing and management majors and the helpfulness of the students has enabled her to settle in quickly, she said.
“It is a bittersweet,” the 20-year-old said. “I’m excited that Marymount has accepted me and the community has been so welcoming. But I miss home and this is an adjustment that will take time.”