Rebuilding Cameron schools

September 12, 2006
Reported by Pam Dixon

"Welcome to the new South Cameron High School. That's it," says, senior Jacob Trahan. It's hardly the same school senior Jacob Trahan left when he evacuated for Hurricane Rita one year ago. Jacob says, "Nothing in the whole building is being used right now. It's just storage from FEMA and stuff. Cameron Elementary and South Cameron Elementary are combined, and then South Cameron High School which is two different buildings."

After the school in Creole was destroyed, students shared Grand Lake High's campus for almost the entire year. Jacob says, "It's really hard, but when you get over here, you meet with all the people that you've grown up with, it makes up for it."

No longer fish out of water, South Cameron High students and teachers are now back on their own campus for the first time since the hurricane, many still willing to make the one or two hour round trip from their temporary homes. Teacher Jana Baccigalopi says, "I have to drive down every day because I'm living between Welsh and Lacassine and I drive 50 minutes, but it's been worth it. I like the community. And even when the storm hit, my thing was I could rebuild my house but I can't rebuild my community. So you know just the school being back is wonderful. We're all together here as one, and that feeling, the feeling is just so good."

The South Cameron classrooms used to be where you see mud and water. Now the area is used for the student parking. The only things standing are the gyms and the football field. Those will be salvaged as the school gets rebuilt over the next three years. In the meantime, students from not only South Cameron High, but also South Cameron Elementary and Cameron Elementary Schools go to class in temporary buildings behind what used to be the high school, surrounded by construction crews rebuilding South Cameron High. Third grader morgan Primeaux says, "For recess today we had to pass up cranes and bulldozers and stuff. It wasn't in our way. It was in the grass."

Donated school supplies and computers continue to pour in to replace those lost in the storm. But replacing weeks and weeks of school time lost last year is a little harder. Senior Jillian Duddleston says, "I don't think we got as much, like we didn't learn as much as we were supposed to, but we made it. And we're here and it's just great to be back home."

Cameron Parish Schools Superintendent Dr. Doug Chance believes the kids can catch up. Chance says, "I think the fact that Cameron Parish Schools opened August the 21st in four locations that we had planned for I think is a mark that speaks for our people. It speaks for our board and it speaks that we set some goals and moved towards those goals. We set some academic goals. We're going to push for those. We know we won't make everything up in one year. But over the next one to three years, I think Cameron will be back where everyone can be proud. We have the potential. We have the faculties. We have the administrative leadership, and we have a board that's ready to go, and we know that moms, dads and our students are ready to meet that challenge" even though their schools are far from being rebuilt or repaired, both south Cameron and Johnson bayou students have come a long way, just being able to return to their home campuses-- a move that's a big part of bringing back the coastal communities and the friendships that haven't been forgotten. Jacob says, "It's good to be back home even though nothing's the same and will probably never be the same for all of us, but I mean I'm just glad to be back with my friends."

Mark your calendar for Thursday, September 24th. KPLC airs a one hour special called "Rita One Year Later."