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'They Even Asked for Homework!' 

Lakeview's elementary schools vow to return from temporary digs to their old neighborhood.

While Mt. Carmel is returning to its own campus this week, several Lakeview elementary schools along Harrison Avenue are reopening in temporary locations in or near their neighborhood.

St. Paul's Episcopal School, located at Canal Boulevard and Harrison, shifted operations on Jan. 3 to First Baptist Church, 5290 Canal Blvd., with more than half its 255 pre-Katrina students back in class.

St. Dominic Catholic Elementary Spchool reopened on the campus of Holy Rosary School, 3368 Esplanade Ave., in October and now has most of its 625 students enrolled there -- along with dozens more attending catechism classes after school on Wednesdays.

And while Hynes Elementary School remains closed for the rest of this academic year, School Board member Jimmy Fahrenholtz says a strong movement has taken hold to reopen Hynes as a charter school in August. Hynes, with an enrollment of more than 800, is one of the city's few public schools not taken over by the state, thanks to its high academic performance.

All of the schools are anchored in Lakeview and vow to return.

"We felt really good that we were able to reopen in Lakeview, in our community, right down the street," says Charleen Schwank, assistant head of school at St. Paul's. "We believe our reopening will help rebuild the community, and that's so important."

St. Paul's, like most of Lakeview, sustained massive flood damage on the bottom floors of all its buildings at the 45-year-old campus. "Thankfully, our second floors are fine," Schwank says. "We have begun the process of tearing out and rebuilding, and we have promised our parents that we'll be ready, come August, to return to our campus on Harrison and Canal."

The first day back was an emotional one for the kids as well as the teachers at each school.

"We hugged each other for most of the morning," Schwank says. "Everyone told stories. We started our morning with chapel, which is how we start most of our mornings, and there were lots of tears. ...

"The kids are so resilient," she continues. "They told stories of places they went where there was no recess -- how hard! -- and they just couldn't wait to get back to St. Paul's. There was lots of laughing, and mostly we just want to get back to a normal life. They even asked for homework!"

Both St. Paul's and St. Dominic's drew upon the strength of parent volunteers to get back on their feet.

"We went back in as soon as the water went down and just started cleaning," says St. Dominic's veteran principal, Adrianne LeBlanc. "We heard the National Guard was in town, so we called and made connections. Pretty soon we had three different units in there -- all from out of state. We just went in and started emptying stuff out. They helped a lot, along with our wonderful parents."

St. Dominic's was the first Lakeview school to reopen, thanks to LeBlanc's quick decision to ask the Archdiocese of New Orleans for use of Holy Rosary, which sustained only minor wind damage during Katrina -- and lots of volunteers.

"I met with our teachers on Monday, Oct. 10, and brought them over to Holy Rosary," says LeBlanc. "I told them of my plan, and we came over to take a look at the building. Right away we just sat down and got going."

Two days later LeBlanc had 35 parents, three maintenance employees and 20 teachers scrubbing the Esplanade Avenue school down and getting it ready. "We didn't have any electricity in the school at the time," she says, "so we used a crawfish boiling pot to heat water to scrub the floors."

Two weeks later, 139 of St. Dominic's students returned to class. By Christmas, enrollment grew to more than 250, then to 400-plus on Jan. 3. LeBlanc even added a pre-K class for 4-year-olds and an 8th-grade section.

"It felt good that first day," she recalls. "Seeing those kids going into classes was an awesome feeling. It was quite emotional for the teachers, too. ... We'll be here through May, but we'll be back in Lakeview in August."

Public school students at Hynes and elsewhere have "scattered to the four winds," says Fahrenholtz, but he is optimistic about Hynes' prospects as a charter school.

"The parents have been in touch, and they want it back open badly," he says. "There are a number of excellent teachers from that school who will be returning, I'm sure, once Hynes opens up again. The most important thing, right now, is parental involvement. The quality of schools is skewed totally in favor of those with strong parental involvement. I'm hearing that Hynes parents want to keep it like it was, but without any school board meddling. That will make it even more progressive than it was."

Fahrenholtz says Hynes parents who want to get involved should contact their PTO leaders. "They are the community," he says. "Whatever direction they want to take with their children's school, they should get involved and make it happen."

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