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ACE teachers assist in rebuilding efforts

Julie Hynes | Monday, September 19, 2005

While many teachers from the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) were displaced by Hurricane Katrina’s path of destruction, a dedicated few are fighting to rebuild schools and begin educating again.

Assistant Director of ACE Colleen Garvey said while Notre Dame’s ACE teachers in the Biloxi, Miss. area were displaced, most chose to return to the area to help with relief efforts almost immediately following the storm.

ACE teacher Tony Hallowell is one of those teachers. Hallowell completely filled his car with food, water and ice and drove straight back to Biloxi only three or four days after the storm cleared.

“Nothing much was getting done just sitting on the couch,” Hallowell said. “I saw that people down there were eating clam chowder MREs, and that didn’t sound very appetizing. I thought the least I could do was to bring some food and supplies down there.”

Hallowell said he realized there was plenty of work to be done when he arrived in Biloxi. He said he has been staying with members of the community while working with other ACE teachers to prepare the schools in the area for reopening.

Half the ACE teachers from Biloxi helping with the relief efforts are currently staying at the ACE house in Mobile, Ala. because ACE does not want to put any more strain on resources in the Biloxi community, Garvey said. She also said the house is a convent, so it has extra rooms and bathrooms to accommodate the teachers.

ACE teacher Sarah Miller said the Mobile house was damaged in the hurricane, so the teachers cleaned up the convent in Mobile before work on the Biloxi schools began. Miller said the crew is now focusing on Resurrection High School and Resurrection Elementary because those schools had the least amount of damage. The schools are set to resume on Oct. 3.

“We’ve been clearing out the schools, getting rid of damaged furniture and taking down drywall,” she said.

Garvey said rebuilding their schools is a top priority for the Biloxi community. Although many of the homes in the area were destroyed, Garvey said the main concern the community immediately voiced at a meeting with their pastor was providing a means for continuation of their children’s education so the children could have some sense of normalcy during such a difficult time.

Hallowell said he believes reopening the schools is important to young people in Biloxi.

“All these kids see these days is their houses being ripped down, and they don’t get to see their friends as much as they normally do,” he said. “It can be very overwhelming. The return to school will give students a chance to be able to share their experiences.”

Hallowell also said the ACE teachers feel fortunate to be able to be a direct part of the relief effort in Biloxi and that he has been impressed by the overall response to the area by other people aware of the situation.

The teachers are heroes in the opinion of ACE Director John Staud, who was impressed by their actions and drive to restore normalcy to the Biloxi community.

“I wasn’t surprised,” he said. “I was inspired.”