Kendell Goes Back To School
10/26/2007 AT 06:00 AM EDT
On the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, everywhere in this neighborhood near where the levee broke it's the same: front porch stairs that lead to nowhere, hand-scrawled street signs replacing ones that washed away, the only sound in the swamp heat the ceaseless chirping of crickets. "I would ride my bike up and down my street and say hello to the people," says Kendell. "Most of them are all gone."
But at the corner of Caffin and Claiborne Avenues, in the middle of the desolation, is an unexpected vision: a newly refurbished school building with freshly painted butter-yellow pillars, a newly sodded sports field and gleaming monkey bars and slide. On Aug. 13, thanks to the efforts of one very determined principal, Kendell and his little sister Kiara, 7, were among 650 students filing in to first-day classes at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Charter School for Science & Technology – the only school to reopen in one of the city's most devastated neighborhoods. "I'll get to be there," Kendell says, anticipating that day, "and it makes me feel good."
Even before Katrina, New Orleans was a city with plenty of rough edges: In the Lower Ninth, more than a third of the children lived below the poverty line and the crime rate was 10 times higher than in New York City. But with all the lives and homes, the roads and jobs, that washed away with the storm, something else crucial was lost: Over half of the city's 120 public schools – already ranked among the worst-performing in the nation – were damaged or destroyed.
For more stories about Katrina's aftermath from Time Inc. publications, go to time.com/katrina.