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Week of 11.24.06

Live and Learn

Viewed before Hurricane Katrina as an institutional disaster, New Orleans' public schools got a second shot at success as a result of the devastation. City planners ran with the opportunity, deciding not just to rebuild schools, but to implement a bold experiment in public schooling.

A full 60 percent of the city's reopened schools are now independently-run charter schools. This week, NOW looks at the challenges, successes, and implications of one of these schools, Lafayette Academy, through the tragedy-tested eyes of individual students, faculty, and parents.

"I am convinced that this is all going to be the basis for the rebuilding process in New Orleans," Lafayette Academy Principal Eileen Williams tells NOW. "I'm a firm believer that if we're going to do away with poverty in this country and do things that are right, we've got to begin with educating our youth."

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Many of the 754 children attending Lafayette Academy this year did not go to school last year. Others spent the year shuffling from one school to another in various parts of the country.

Officials hope to make up for lost time and get students like 7th grader Domonick Foy back on track. "Before Katrina I finished the year off in sixth grade with a 3.0. When I went to a different school, I was passing everything except math. I'm trying to repeat the seventh grade so maybe next year they can put me in my right grade so I can go to high school," Domonick tells NOW.

For months NOW has followed the students, teachers and parents of New Orleans to see how they have coped with the day-to-day challenges of returning to an old school with a new philosophy.

Web Exclusive Video: D'Mar's Story

How are the youngest New Orleanians faring in the city's bold charter school experiment? In this web-exclusive video, Maria Hinojosa visits a family that has returned to New Orleans to not just rebuild their lives, but restart their education. Through the eyes of third-grader D'Mar and his grandmother, we see the effects of The Big Easy's bold move to reinvent public education in the city.

»: See Also: D'Mar's Story: An Update (June 22, 2007)

Related Links

» Lafayette Academy

» Yearbook 2006: Chronicles the interrupted senior year of Benjamin Franklin high school in New Orleans