The challenge was on.
Frederick A. Douglass School’s building was severely damaged from the impact of Hurricane Ida and its students needed a new campus to resume in-person learning - quickly.
Members of the greater KIPP New Orleans Schools community rose to the challenge to transform the Ellis Marsalis Building and create a temporary space for Douglass’ students. Faculty and staff members welcomed nearly 250 students to their second ‘first day of school’ this year on Monday at the provisional site.
Douglass’ campus suffered significant wind and water damage due to the force of Hurricane Ida to its property. School leaders have been working non-stop with NOLA-PS to assess damages and make necessary repairs.
"The loss of our beloved campus at 3820 St. Claude has been a real blow to our community,” Principal Towana Pierre-Floyd said. “It was devastating to see the roof damage, broken windows and debris. Though the Marsalis site is not home, it feels incredible to be back together to resume in person learning. Our students and staff are incredible and are already doing fantastic work in this new space."
The once vacant school building on Loyola Avenue will provide a home away from home for Douglass students while its St. Claude Avenue campus is restored, and damages repaired. The students will continue the reminder of their fall semester at the makeshift facility, with the hopes of returning to their school in November.
“While Douglass’ campus continues to be renovated, we are excited about the generosity of the Lusher community in providing space here,” Pierre-Floyd said. “Our first priority is creating a reliable and steady environment for our students to continue their academic studies - safely and in-person; and being housed in this building makes it all possible.”
To meet the quick deadline set in place for students to arrive on campus, over 400 volunteers from throughout the community converged on the Marsalis grounds and rolled up their sleeves. The volunteers met over the course of four days to paint classrooms, remove old furniture, bring in new furniture, get rid of unwanted debris and decorate classrooms.
Pierre-Floyd said successfully preparing the building for students’ arrival was dependent upon the support received. Among the volunteers to join in were NOLA-PS School Board members, KIPP New Orleans Schools Board members, Entergy employees, Junior Achievement employees, Dillard University students, teachers, recent FDHS and KIPP Renaissance grads, current students, KNOS staff members, family and friends.
“It was incredible to watch so many thoughtful people come together to help our students,” Pierre-Floyd added. "Even when we were in the beginning stages of finding a new location, we remained focused on our immediate need for a safe and viable location for our students. We are grateful we were able to assess our situation and provide a temporary solution for our students to help create a sense of normalcy.”
Several volunteers were encouraged to take part in the remediation efforts because it was a great opportunity to support KIPP’s goal of providing in-person learning for students.
Machelle Payne, a community friend of KNOS, agreed it was important to lend a helping hand at the campus. “I wish I could help more!” She exclaimed. “I believe in KIPP New Orleans’ mission. I believe that every student should have a safe, comfortable and productive learning environment. If I have an opportunity to help KNOS with that, I’m happy to assist.”
Vicky Sperling, who also pitched in during the volunteer clean-up efforts agreed.
“I ditto that,” Sperling said. “I help out because education is the future of our city.”
Pierre-Floyd said that school leaders are working hard to meet the needs of all students in the aftermath of Ida. Some students have elected to continue to receive virtual instruction, as well.
“It wasn’t just the building that sustained damages, our students and their families and our staff and their families are also dealing with Ida’s impact at home,” Pierre-Floyd added. “But we rallied together, despite our personal challenges to create a new space and we are thankful to our leaders, NOLA-PS, and our friends in the community who pitched in to help us open doors for our students.”
Jonae Allen, a junior at FDHS, is looking forward to great year and being housed at the Marsalis building offers a much-needed temporary solution for students. “I am pretty sure everyone misses 3820 as much as I do; but it is very important - that in a time like this - to keep good vibes and positivity around you and your family,” she said. “So, when we do go back to 3820, we can be stronger than ever.”