Participating in the New Orleans and Back program requires a year-long commitment. Starting in the fall, long before the actual trip to New Orleans, students are expected to attend and actively engage in meetings every Thursday after school and every third Saturday for a full day. They are expected to be model students at school, rarely missing school and being leaders in their classes. They participate in community service activities once we return from New Orleans and must be open to teaching others about their experiences re-building homes and learning about community.
Through New Orleans and Back, students take action in the following ways:
Students organize fundraising efforts. Starting in early September, student participants design and create artwork, including sketchbooks, recycled books that are painted and styled into wall hooks, and small tables. Students spend 4 Saturdays in November and December selling this art at Eastern Market to raise money for their travels. Students also educate Eastern Market shoppers about the New Orleans and Back program in order to build awareness in the D.C. community.
Students learn about New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina, and its effect on housing in the community. During weekly Thursday meetings in the winter and spring, students participate in learning activities to help them prepare to travel to New Orleans. Students learn about housing policy, watch documentaries about Hurricane Katrina, and discuss Beyond the Bricks, a book written by two New Orleans teenagers about their own experiences with home and community in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. These meetings prepare students to engage more actively and knowledgeably with the community once we arrive in New Orleans.
Students re-build houses in New Orleans. During our stay in New Orleans, we work with various organizations, the primary organization being The St. Bernard Project. Working with many organizations allows students to see different parts of the greater New Orleans region that are still feeling the impact of Hurricane Katrina. It also allows students to engage in different kinds of demolition and construction work.
Students partner with other DC youth organizations to engage in community service. Students who participate in the program recognize the importance of sharing what they learned in New Orleans and what they think about home and community once they return to D.C. They demonstrate their understanding by designing and teaching lessons to other students in the area.
Students record their experiences through documentaries. Students take turns videoing their participation in New Orleans and Back, including weekly meetings, Saturday fundraising, and community service projects in addition to the actual time spent in New Orleans. Students then work in groups to turn this footage into several short documentaries telling the story of their travels and transformation.
Students who are 11th and 12th graders serve as mentors for 10th graders in the program. Upperclassmen are paired with a sophomore students to mentor throughout the week in New Orleans. Adult leaders recognize that students can often learn more from each other than they do from adults. Upperclassmen have the responsibility of guiding sophomores through the trip and making sure it is successful. They help their mentees in numerous ways, from making sure they drink enough water while on-site to helping resolve any conflicts in the house. The upperclassmen also help the adults make decisions during the trip and communicate these and other expectations to the sophomores.