By Erin McKinley
|Boothville-Venice Elementary is a school on the “Edge of the World.” Located at the southern tip of Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, the school has survived more in the past five years than most schools face in decades.
Built on stilts after Hurricane Camille in 1969, the school was designed and constructed to survive extreme storm conditions. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Boothville-Venice area was washed away by 27-feet of water. The school was one of the few buildings to survive.
The small kindergarten through sixth grade school of 337 students is situated in an area where fishing and water is a way of life. Naturally, when the Deepwater Horizon disaster occurred and thousands of gallons of crude oil began working its way to the shores of Louisiana, this small town and its school were traumatized.
“A lot of the students were a little depressed by it,” said Boothville-Venice Elementary School principal, Maria Prout. “What we did was we had the science teacher kind of explain to them what had happened and follow the oil spill in the news.”
While the children might have been too young to understand all of the economic and environmental repercussions of the oil spill, they did understand that their way of life was threatened.
Directly after the spill, Prout said she remembers many children asking what would happen if their parents, many of whom were fishermen, could not continue with their jobs. They also wanted to know whether local seafood was safe to eat.
Prout could have easily turned away from those uncomfortable subjects and had gone back to schoolwork as usual. Instead, along with others, she used the disaster as a learning opportunity for the students.
Together, students wrote letters to the state level, held group meetings, and followed the spill as part of current events projects designed to help them cope.
Through grants given to the school, administrators have been able to call on the services of a counseling group called Louisiana Spirits, which comes to the school to talk with the students in small groups. In some cases, parents attend these sessions.
“We try to talk about it,” said Prout. “We don’t try to hide anything from our kids, we try to educate them so that they’ll know so that they can go home and help to educate their parents as well.”
“It has been a touchy little situation but I think our kids are managing, especially with all of the counseling they have been getting. By us being here, and knowing what they’re going through, it’s not like we’re on the outside looking in. We’re in the trenches with them, so they can appreciate that.”