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Rising from Ruin is an on-going MSNBC.com special report chronicling two coastal Mississippi towns, Bay St. Louis and Waveland, as they rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

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First off, let me start by saying that I'm not a Republican. I'm not really a Democrat, either. I've always considered myself politically agnostic, and have always agreed with someone I heard quoted as saying whoever WANTS to be president probably isn't qualified. All of this said, my thoughts really have no agenda. I just thought it was interesting.

As I read Hannah and Patty's accounts of a thrilling encounter with the leader of our country, I was reminded of my experience on the same day.

As I think I've mentioned before, I teach at two public schools, Gulfview Elementary in Lakeshore, and Charles B. Murphy Elementary in Pearlington (two small communities close to Waveland). Both schools were entirely destroyed in the storm, and both schools are now housed in portable trailers behind the Middle School (Incidentally located on Stennis Airport Road, which actually comes into this story.) Both schools are populated with low income, "high risk" kids, many of whom came from disadvantaged circumstances even before the storm. About 85 to 90% of my kids were on free or reduced lunch before the storm, and 100% are now in that program.

On the 12th, no one told us that the president was coming to town. No announcements were made. No festivities planned. I knew the president was supposed to visit the Coast and New Orleans that day from the morning newscast, but didn't know he'd planned to come to my neighborhood. The first thing I knew about his proximity was the intercom announcement at the end of the day.

Before I launch into that, return with me now to your past. Remember what the last five minutes of the school day was like. Remember the zipping of zippers, the rustling of papers, and the anxious anticipation of what you'd do when you got home that afternoon. (Which I feel here is a good time to mention that due to the destruction of many school buses in the storm, our kids have to wait for a bus to run one route, then return to school to pick up another load, making some of the kids get home 2 to 3 hours after dismissal.) Remember how ready you were to leave. This was when the announcement came on the intercom "Teachers... Please do NOT release your classes until we give the OK."

No explanations, no indication of how long. Just, don't let them out until further notice. I figured that there was some logical explanation, and stuck my head out into the hallway to see what was up. That was the first time that I heard that the president was anywhere around. Now, the real problem comes in, in that classroom behavior generally turns sour in unstructured time (at least that's what all of those staff development workshop speakers keep telling us), and teachers are encouraged to keep students engaged in learning activities the whole time they are in the classroom. But how can you do that when you have NO idea how long you'll be there?!?

About 40 minutes later (!) we were given the OK to dismiss students to go wait for their buses.

I think what I find "interesting" is that the current president, who, if you will recall pre-storm news, was SO concerned with education, that he signed the "No Child Left Behind" legislation (which, by the way, is impossibly idealistic, impossible to attain, and impossible to criticize, because no one wants to sound like they are in favor of leaving children behind), and has talked at length about the failings of schools and teachers, and overhauling public education chose to speak at a PRIVATE school.

Don't misunderstand me. I understand completely why the current president decided to talk at St. Stanislaus. It's still standing, has classes in it right now, and was on his route. And further, don't misunderstand me about Hannah's entry in the blog. I used to live next door to the Andersons, and love those kids (in fact, Heather and I always said if we ever had kids we'd give them to John and Allison to raise, 'cause their kids are so great), but kids like the Andersons are so far away from the danger of being left behind that it isn't funny!

I do think that for me, as an educator, I would have been a little more touched by his concern and visit if he had decided to pay a call to Hancock Middle School, where three public schools are crowded onto the same grounds. Instead, he spoke at the "privileged" establishment, and drove DIRECTLY by our public school on Stennis Airport Road, on his way to Stennis Airport, leaving them cooling their heels in their classrooms, wondering what was going on.

I also found it touching, how excited the kids were the next day, that as they sat on their buses (waiting for his motorcade to pass and their FURTHER OK to return to their small white FEMA campers to be given) Air Force One flew over their heads as the president flew back to his large White House, leaving them behind.

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28 COMMENTS

I find it interesting, and a little sad,that your insightful comments were met with only silence. I commend you, Mr. Harper, for speaking up and saying what every private citizen deep down must know is true: our president has let us down! Keep teaching. Keep speaking the truth,and remember that teaching is more than just about the three R's. Character really does matter. Your example speaks volumes.

Yea baby, keep it up!!
We all know this is one of the worse administrations this country has ever seen, and I'm afraid that recovering from Bush is going to take much longer than recovering from Katrina!!
AND, I agree about the Anderson Kid thing, do you think it's too late for Allison and John to do anything with our three kids???????
miss you!
xo
DeNeice

Steve's post has not been met with silence. This is the third comment I have sent to be posted. I suspect that this post has received many comments; they're just not getting past the moderator. I'm glad yours got through.

I can understand your disappointment. But also take a step back and look at the big picture. Bay St. Louis, Waveland, etc., has a face now. They did exstensive coverage on the area. I'm sure the kids loved the recent visit from Laura Bush, and Brett Favre. And I'm sure they are very excited about their new playground, that was built. And as far as your comment on speaking at the "priveleged" esatblishment, he DOES NOT choose wear he speaks, Secret Service does, I know this because my husband is an agent. They spend numerous hours researching, and casing places that will be the safest for the President. That is thier job. It was the safest place according to them. It had nothing to do with classes, building left standing etc. It was a security issue, and according to them it was the most secure. I live in FL and grew up in BSL, I knew of the President's visit as well as many from BSL who called to tell me in excitement that he was going to be in Hancock County. I can almost gaurantee that people at Hancock knew of his arrival. Sorry you were not personally made aware. Is that Bush's fault, probably not. I admire your compassion as an educator. My family is full of teachers, and I respect them to the fullest. What I feel is the most important about the visit is he was finally in Hancock County. It has gotten the word out. He finally saw for himself the devastation. Gene Taylor and Senator Trent Lott have been working thier tails off for the people of the MS Gulf Coast, and obviously they are doing a good job, to get the President in the area. Try to find the good in things sometimes and not always the bad. How about writing an article about how Gene Taylor, Senator Lott, Eddie Farve, Tommy Longo, etc. are working their tails off for the people of Hancock County. Let's be positve.

R.A Hill....you are right about the silence....but i think it's because most of us....just don't know...what to say....except thanks Steve...keep writing

Steve,
I think you're being nice...Stanislaus couldn't have possibly been "on his route" - the bridge is out!
Coming home to CT after working 10 days in Bay St. Louis and Biloxi, I feel a sense of guilt yet a renewed sense of thankfulness for all that was accomplished during the trip and what will be contributed in months to come!

I had sent a message to you Steve before this one so I guess some are not getting through. Anyway, I just wanted you to know that what you said is exactly what my Father would have written. He was involved in education in Huntsville, AL for 45 years then did anything he could to help out after retirement. He was always fighting for the "child that was left behind" and never gave up on anyone of them in this situation. He would say, "Steve, you were born to be a great teacher".

DB in FL.Prayer's money and your sweat.Let the vote grabber's beat thier own drum's.If Bush wanted to go to the moon,he'd been there.Steve north MS.has and will keep giving our Prayers money and sweat.I can't wait to get back down there with y'all.

Just a heads up C.J. I have been going back and forth working my butt off to help my family. My entire family (parents,grandparents, aunts, uncle's etc.)has lost everything. So before you tell me about my giving my prayers, money and sweat. I have given and still continue to give all I've got. I am from Bay St. Louis, born and raised. I just recently moved to FL. I tell you one thing home is where the heart is and my heart is in Bay St. Louis/Hancock County.

Thanks for telling it like it really was. Most of the folks in the Bay and Waveland were not able to attend this Bush Bash. They were too busy working and trying to get back to "real" life. Keep up the good work with those students. They are our future.God Bless and keep all of you.

the anderson's have great kids. i had the pleasure of living across the street on st. joseph for 5 years. my heart and prayers go out to all of you.i lost everything in new orleans.sparky says hi sara.

I, too, have no political agenda. I really don't like politics. Anyhow, your story sounds exactly like what any politician would do. Take Condoleeza Rice, for example. She was caught buying shoes and going to a play in New York City only a few days after the disaster, while people where still clinging to their lives on rooftops and wading through filthy water trying to get to higher ground. So what do we do? Sir, your story makes a good point. Run for office. Change things. You've seen first hand how disappointing our government is. So change it.

I live in Scarsdale, NY, a small community just north of NYC. A group of us have organized a non-profit to raise money for Bay St. Louis-Waveland Schools. SOS4EDUCATION = Scarsdale Offers Support For Education, is planning a benefit fundraiser. All proceeds will go to the BSL-W schools to help re-build. We are involving our entire community in this cause, and want to do the best we can. I hope I am allowed to talk about this here, and that my note gets to all of you.
I want Bay St. Louis to know that they are not forgotten and that a community that cares is out there. Love to hear back.

Joyce, Thanks for your planned help. I actually teach in the Hancock County School System (intermixed geographically, but somehow separate.) but I know that many of the Bay-Waveland School District schools were heavily damaged, and could use help as well! Oh, and just a note to DB in Florida, I am trying to maintain a positive outlook, and I'm sure the children who saw Laura Bush and Bret Favre enjoyed it... but again, they drove right past my schools, and headed north in the county to an elementary school that WASN'T damaged, with kids that DIDN'T lose their homes or school, and built them a brand new playground.... Whereas my kids sit in their trailers (both at home and at school) and have recess in an empty lot... no playground. I'll keep smiling, but my kids are starting to notice that the Bush family keep passing them by.

God bless you, and I hope that the president will someday understand that his position is that of service to us, to y'all especially at this time. I am not in a position to come down there to help, but if there is anything y'all need for school let me know. I want to help in whatever way that I can.

I wondered what Bush would say in his state of the union address about Katrina and about the many schools trying to come back. Not much. He doesn't want to draw attention to it. If I were him, I probably wouldn't want to mention it either. It would be too embarrasing. Plus it would interfere with the most important thing in the world - trying to hide anything and everything from the American people and presenting what we NEED to know and what we SHOULD know with his press releases. And critizing as unpatriotic anybody who doesn't follow their talking points. 1984?

Oh, I saw a bumper sticker that said, "I stand with President Bush" this morning. Well, I don't. I stand on my own two feet and I can put two and two together. And I feel sad that I am seeing in my lifetime the most wonderful country in the world, the United States of America, being taken down by the present administration.

Steve,
Thanks for keeping the focus where it should be. Children are our future and our President has provided the words, (no child behind...) but not the actions. And we all know which one speaks louder. Keep doing what you do best. Your students will never forget your help during their most difficult year. You did not "pass them by". I'm also very proud of my sister, Gwen Impson and her husband John. They are working everyday to rebuild not only their lives, but the Arts in Hancock County. My mom, Thelma Gelis is far from Waveland now...in Alaska, but awaiting the time when she can return home to Waveland, Ms. God bless all of you. Tahmi and Ralph Keir

Did I see you perform at the Bay City Grill a couple of weeks agO??? Just hit me after I read your and your wife's biographies.

Steve, we're all so greatful for people like you. Thank you for the work you do.

My sister and brother-in-law are in Pascagoula; and they lost a great deal. They've been personally fortunate in that their jobs continued; but I know their mental health is strained to the max. I can't imagine seeing such devastation day after day.

DB, I think it's great you're helping out; however, I think you're seeing what you want to see. I am political; and this administration has gotten us into a war on a lie; was irresponsible in its response to Katrina; and if left to continue this defecit spending, will destroy the economies of our children and grand children.

I was gutting a house in St. Bernard Parish, LA with a group of students from Hobart & William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY on the day you mention and Marine One flew over us. We thought it was bad there, but I have just looked at pictures of Bay St. Louis, where we might be heading in a couple of weeks. The response to this disaster by the richest nation on earth borders on criminal.

www.sos4education.com is based in Scarsdale, NY.
We have developed a wonderful relationship with the terrific people in the Bay St. Louis Waveland School District. We're planning several fundraising activities in May, 2006 and we hope to raise a substantial amount of money for the schools. If you want to help, please check out the website.

Yes, Isn't It wonderful Bush actually took the time to visit that part of Mississippi. A shame one teacher who couldn't figure out how to educate or entertain a group of students for 40 minutes is jealous because the President didn't visit his school. Katrina and Rita left so many in such hard conditions. I'm glad this teacher did have a classroom to teach in and is getting a check to do it.


What a great way to show the caring and compassion. It is too bad that one teacher cannot fathom how close to impossible it is to determine which schools the President should attend. Safety is paramount for a President, and it sounds as though this teacher's school was overcrowded due to the damage from Katrina.
There will always be the whiners that will cry, "Why not my school?"

There will also be the people that say that the President should not have even gone down there because it took too many resources away from the clean-up and rescue activities......ya can't win for losing!!!

That teacher made a fool of himself in his stupid blog. I would be worried if my child was being taught by someone so stupid that they think the President has time to visit ALL THOSE WHO WERE EFFECTED BY KATRINA. His loss, or his student's lose, is no greater or worse than the other thousands upon thousands who lost everything, their homes, belongings, pets and some - even loved ones.
That teacher needs to get a clue and stop thinking that he and his students were somehow snubbed.

I agree with Janie from Texas. Just because the president visited a private school instead of a public school is no reason for a public school teacher to wonder out loud, "Why?" He probably already knows why and should just keep his thoughts to himself. What is he thinking, that he has free speach? If only his school had known ahead of time, they would have had time to do something special for the president instead of just biding an indefinite amount of time at the end of the day for an unknown reason. Maybe they could have made paper roses and spread them on the road in front of the president's motorcade. Then they could have bowed reverently as he went past.
And, by the way, why not use the vice-president for extra security? He is a skilled and careful hunter, and we could put his talents to good use.

I'm sorry, I missed the part where an elementary school was a security threat.

D.B. said it was a security issue, and her husband has been in the Secret Service. That is why the President took the route he did. And I was just thinking about the Vice President. Surely an elementary school is not a security threat.

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