The schools that have opened in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina are very diverse, but one thing many have in common is strict rules. This is a big difference from before the storm. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, I attended Dibert Elementary School in New Orleans. Even though I was quite young, I still remember the struggles I faced trying to learn. I often felt bored, not because I didn’t want to learn, but because I learned more quickly than other students. Most teachers weren’t able to control their class. Students were constantly off task, talking really loudly and even playing video games.
When my family moved back to New Orleans after the storm, my mother started to search for a middle school for me to attend. When I enrolled at New Orleans College Prep, the school was starting its second year with just sixth and seventh grades. Right from the beginning, authorities at the school let us know how things were going to run. There was a specific type of belt, undershirt, shoes, and even hair color that we had to wear. If you didn’t have the right attire, the school would supply you with the right clothing item, but you would still get a consequence. The consequence was writing your times tables, one through 14, up to 25 times. If you had tattoos, you would be given something to cover them up; if you refused to do so, you were sent home. There was tape on the floor and we had to walk on it, following a straight line. There were plenty of other rules that just seemed so pointless at the time.
I didn’t realize how the rules could be helpful until I got to high school. My school always said that the reason we had such strict rules was to prepare us for college. During middle school, I didn’t really think that getting into college started with such strict rules. But as I got older, I began to realize that the lifestyle we’re used to in New Orleans is not going to help us succeed in life. I also realized that strict rules can be helpful as long as teachers and administrators are flexible and respond to students’needs.
Growing up in New Orleans, you see and experience certain things that you shouldn’t. Crime and vulgar behavior are very common and actually expected in certain neighborhoods. It’s common for kids to witness shootings around their homes and even schools.
When my school was still in the Sylvanie Williams building, we often saw neighborhood shootings. In my ninth grade English class, I used to sit by the window. One day, I saw two men in a car and another standing in the street with bullets flying between them. I thought to myself, “Oh my gosh I actually just saw that.” This wasn’t even my first time seeing something like that in New Orleans. A few minutes later, I heard police sirens. Over the intercom, our principal announced that the school was on lockdown. Corner stores have been robbed by students so much that the ones near my school ban children from entering them during the school day.
Many children also come from homes that do not necessarily have rules and discipline for the children to follow. As a result, a lot of kids in elementary schools, and even in high school, tend to follow their own rules. The only way to change this is through education.
New Orleans perspectives
This essay is part of a collaboration between The Hechinger Report and high school students at Bard’s Early College in New Orleans. The teenagers wrote opinion pieces on whether all students should be encouraged to attend college, the value of alternative teacher preparation programs such as Teach For America, the importance of desegregation, or the best approach to school discipline.
Currently I am a junior at College Prep; we have changed in a lot of ways since I was in the sixth grade. The rules are not as strict as they used to be since now most kids know what is right and what is wrong. We often have town hall meetings where the students can volunteer new ideas and give the principal feedback on changes that could help improve the school.
Now, College Prep allows us to wear any college gear, such as hoodies and sweaters, and any clothing that has our school symbol on it. We also get to wear any type of shoes as long as they are certain colors. We have more sports and extracurriculars because we’ve explained to the staff and principal that in New Orleans things like football, basketball, and marching bands are very important aspects of our culture.
The rules and rigid discipline have allowed us to grow and change in some positive ways. Certain rules have become habit for me and helped me push myself, which has led to high grades and different academic opportunities.
I haven’t had much experience with other charter schools in New Orleans, but since I’ve started attending Bard Early College, a half day program that allows high school juniors and seniors to take college-level courses, I have been around kids who come from different charter schools. They all feel as though their schools have strict rules that at times get a little out of hand. But in the end, most of us agree that these rules will help us in the future.
Whether discipline structures can be effective depends on how the authorities implement them. You have to meet the kids half way and understand their lifestyle in order to help them. That’s what my charter school is doing currently. They have taken a strict, yet flexible, approach to discipline.
When authorities abuse their powers by being too hard on children and treating schools like the military, students won’t have room to grow. They will always expect someone to tell them what to do and how to do it rather than learning how to control themselves. That approach will not prepare anyone for the real world.
Erin Lockley is a junior at Cohen College Prep in New Orleans.