Last evacuees leave Mrs. Tuccio&8217;s class

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 17, 2006

Jan. 4, 2006

There&8217;s an empty desk and extra books in Mrs. Tuccio&8217;s class now.

Cramped quarters in mid-September, the classroom again has its originally assigned number of people, all Natchez residents.

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Three Hurricane Katrina evacuees have come and gone, all three surely leaving with more than with which they came.

The last of the three, Tempestt Givens, was the first to arrive. She was there on McLaurin&8217;s first day back to school after the hurricane, and she&8217;s been there ever since.

It didn&8217;t take Tempestt long to make her place in the fourth-grade class. She spent the first few hours taking it all in, it seemed, but she was never a scared, shy, new kid.

Now, she&8217;s in another new school, this time in New Orleans, where her cousins attend.

She&8217;s sleeping in a FEMA trailer in her grandmother&8217;s front yard, awaiting the arrival of a trailer to put in front of her own mildewed, muddy home.

The family plans were to be back in New Orleans before Christmas, Tempestt said in December, just before school let out. She was ready to go.

But being ready to go doesn&8217;t have to mean being ready to leave.

Tempestt had four months to make new friends, develop new routines and create her home away from home.

She came to school on her last day with a camera in hand to take pictures of the friends she was leaving.

&8220;I&8217;ll miss this class,&8221; she said. &8220;Miss having fun.&8221;

Her closest friend &8212; according to the rest of the class &8212; Ayana said she&8217;d miss Tempestt too.

&8220;I wish she&8217;d stay here,&8221; Ayana said. &8220;We play and talk. I don&8217;t know if we&8217;ll write (letters).&8221;

Tempestt, who has been staying with an aunt in Natchez, predicted the FEMA trailer would be small, and said she&8217;d probably be sharing a room. She didn&8217;t know if they&8217;d put up a Christmas tree this year, and she wasn&8217;t sure she&8217;d get much.

She&8217;ll miss her favorite thing about McLaurin &8212; recess, something her old New Orleans school didn&8217;t have, she said.

And her class will miss her, mainly the antics, Jesse said.

&8220;She makes people laugh,&8221; he said. &8220;It ain&8217;t going to be any fun anymore.&8221;

Jesse&8217;s bound to find fun somewhere, and life will go on for the class and for Tempestt.

There were mixed feelings in September when it first dawned on us locals that the evacuee children would be enrolling in our schools. Everyone saw the necessity of it, wanted to help, but many just plain weren&8217;t happy about it.

The new students meant overcrowded classes, not enough supplies, schedule changes. Most feared the raw emotions the children were bound to bring with them, and others whispered about what having inner-city New Orleans kids in our country schools would do to us.

There were rumors of fights, (there were a few minor incidents on the buses), guns and threats.

Now the numbers are dropping. Close to 600 evacuees in the Natchez schools was 200 before Christmas, some of them are ours forever, others may already be gone.

Some of the evacuees were and still are troublemakers. They talk too much. They make bad grades. They aren&8217;t respectful. But some of our Natchez children fit the same bill.

Tempestt may not even have her photos of McLaurin classmates in five years. She may not remember anything Mrs. Tuccio ever said about math.

She&8217;s young, and her life is going through some radical changes.

But I&8217;d be willing to bet that in 20 years Tempestt will remember that a school in Natchez opened its doors to her when her life had been turned upside down.

She won&8217;t think about the doubts Natchez residents had about the people from New Orleans, and she&8217;ll never know that some of us were afraid of her.

In the end, it&8217;s the good things that will stick, and that should forever be a source of pride for the school district, Mrs. Tuccio, Ayana, Jesse and all the rest.

Julie Finley is the education reporter for The Natchez Democrat. She writes a weekly column based on experiences with Marty Tuccio&8217;s homeroom class at McLaurin Elementary. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or