DAVID KEIFE, PRESIDENT
209 SOUTH HOLLYWOOD ROAD
HOUMA, LA 70360
phone (985) 876-2551
fax (985) 868-9774
Dear Ms. Lau,
Thank you so much for your interest in our school and its efforts to help displaced families with their children’s education. Vandebilt Catholic High School is located in Houma, Louisiana, a town of approximately 30,000 located about 55 miles southwest of New Orleans. Our civil parish, Terrebonne, is situated on the Gulf of Mexico, with mostly marshland between the coast and us. We ourselves are very vulnerable to hurricanes and have been hit several times over the past few decades.
Not long after Katrina hit, my home phone and those of other school personnel began ringing with requests to take students whose homes were either severely damaged or entirely destroyed. Much of the New Orleans area and surrounding civil parishes have Catholic schools that can conceivably not reopen this year. The total enrollment of Catholic high school students in the New Orleans area is nearly 15,000. Families are moving to Terrebonne Parish and staying with relatives or friends, moving into fishing camps owned by others, renting homes or apartments (when available), or purchasing homes (when they can afford to do so).
Our school leadership met last week to see how we could help those most affected. With a school facility that has a maximum capacity of 950 and an enrollment of 900, we knew that we would be limited in what we could do. As of this time, we have had some 160 requests for enrollment over the past two days. Because housing is so limited in our community, we think the number of students coming to us will begin to slow down, and we will end up with about 200 new students. They are coming from the parishes of Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard, and St. Tammany. All-girls schools include Mt. Carmel, St. Mary’s Dominican, Archbishop Blenk, and Archbishop Chapelle. All-boys schools include Jesuit, Brother Martin, Holy Cross, and Archbishop Rummel. Coeducational schools include Redeemer-Seton, Xavier Prep, De La Salle, and Archbishop Hannan. We have been told that Catholic schools in Lafayette and in Baton Rouge, the two largest cities in South Louisiana, have ceased taking these displaced students.
All new families have been met with individually and have been given an option of coming to Vandebilt without paying tuition. Those who feel that they can afford it are offering to pay at our regular rates, but most cannot.
Our school personnel are currently working on a master schedule, adding classes where needed to accommodate the new students. We have ordered 100 desks for students to use in areas of the school that will be set up as classrooms. We will be ordering textbooks for the new students as soon as we identify how many of each we will need. Our teachers will be given some compensation for
the extra teaching load that they are taking on for the entire school year. We are looking into purchasing a few portable classrooms in hopes that we can get FEMA or the federal government to assist us with the cost.
Many families with whom I have met are very uncertain about employment. Some companies have relocated and established temporary offices in areas around New Orleans. Questions remain as to whether tuition paid to New Orleans schools will be refunded and whether tuition loans will be “forgiven.” Tomorrow we hope to identify the material needs of the families who are here so that we can have student organizations and local charities begin working on meeting those needs.
Our time and energy have been spent meeting with families and trying to get ready for this 25 percent increase in enrollment. All other work has been put on hold as we attempt to serve these families. Plans are to have the students begin classes on Friday of this week after an orientation session on Thursday. Our goal is to give these students a routine so that they can begin to have some sense of normalcy in their lives again. We want to warmly welcome them and make them feel that they have a new home – they will be part of the Vandebilt family.
We thank you for your compassion, support, and generosity. We appreciate your working with us to assist these children in making this transition to a new school. Any help that you can provide for these children will increase their awareness that they are children of God and are loved. Thank you for being the arms of Christ reaching out to those in need. These children will have a living example of those who truly love their neighbors as themselves and will hopefully one day be the arms of Christ for others.