February 29, 2008

Group to spend break helping in New Orleans

by Eric Welch

CARBONDALE, Ill. — A group of Southern Illinois University Carbondale students and faculty plan to head south for spring break, but you won't see them at the beach. Instead, the team of nine students and three faculty members from the College of Education and Human Services will be volunteering in New Orleans schools and child care centers devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

SIUC's spring break is set for March 8-16.

"We want to help rebuild the school system in the city so families with kids can feel more comfortable coming back to their homes," said Christie McIntyre, a lecturer in Curriculum and Instruction at SIUC. "The impact of Katrina is still huge; we hope this creates awareness here of the need that children and families still have."

The trip is being organized by educ8kdz, an early childhood student organization that McIntyre and her students created in the fall to do service projects such as this.

"The students have a passion to help out and I want them to see the real struggles that people and children are having," McIntyre said. "They've been reading articles and preparing, but by going down there and experiencing it, they can empathize and understand what the people have been through. I want them to know they can make a difference. We really are our brother's keeper."

Team members will get their hands dirty painting a child care center and rebuilding a playground, but will also get to put their educational expertise into practice. They have been asked to conduct a family literacy workshop for new child care workers, as many with more experience have not returned since the disaster. They will also assess students, read to elementary children and provide supplies to schools. Most of their time on the seven-day expedition will be spent in the Lower Ninth Ward and at two schools within the Recovery School District.

Before leaving for Louisiana, however, educ8kdz will host a "fireside chat" with Ramona Jean-Perkins, a professor of early childhood at Dillard University in New Orleans. The chat will take place from 6:30 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, March 4, in Davis Auditorium in the Wham Education Building. Perkins will discuss her experiences from the perspectives of a survivor and a professional, as well as the status of the city's schools and child care centers in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Additionally, Stephanie Webster and Meagan Hutchings, both SIUC students, will recount their experiences from a recent trip to schools in New Orleans before they embark on the service trip.

Educ8kdz is currently accepting monetary donations to give to the schools as well as donated items, such as children's books, musical instruments, physical education equipment and materials to create reading areas. To donate or for more information, contact McIntyre at cherimc@siu.edu or 618/549-5009.