Schools' condition shocks teacher
URBANA – An Urbana woman who brought aid to out-of-work teachers after Hurricane Katrina says the nation needs to open its eyes to endemic poverty in Mississippi and Louisiana.
Urbana High School social worker and teachers union president Grace Mitchell spent four days in New Orleans, Jackson, Miss., and Baton Rouge, La., delivering money collected for out-of-work educators in those two states and viewing the destruction done by the storm, especially to the schools.
As shocking as the destruction was, she said she was even more shocked by the "before Katrina" photos of the schools.
"It was like the hand of God demolishing these buildings," Mitchell said, who added that her fellow teachers were appalled at the "before" state of schools in Mississippi, one of the nation's poorest states.
Teachers there are among the lowest-paid in the nation. Urbana teachers, staff and students contributed $4,441 toward the $100,000 national total of aid to educators organized by teachers unions.
Mitchell, a 27-year veteran of the school district, wasn't carrying the money on her when she left Urbana on Sept. 30. The money was donated through the Red Cross.
Some of the donations came in pennies from grade school pupils, but it all added up, she said.
After a conference in Washington, D.C., Mitchell arrived in the Gulf "dressed for West Nile" virus. "I was in sweatpants and heavy clothes, and it was 99 degrees. I must have looked pretty strange," said the social worker, who picked up some T-shirts along the way.
Mitchell said she should have known better about the South, both the humidity and poverty.
She grew up in the inner city of Baltimore and had been to New Orleans, but she still was dismayed by the poverty in the region.
Mitchell said she hopes that local residents will get a fair share of the jobs created by reconstruction, but she has her doubts that will happen.
"Poverty creates crime, I believe that. Something has to be done about inequality in America, and schools are a good place to start," Mitchell said.
She wonders how the region will ever repair its school system. "About half of the teachers are never going to return," she said.