Now living in Illinois, 20-year New Orleans resident Tisserand recalls a community’s effort to make sure their kids got a decent education in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Along with other families living in the district served by the popular public school Lusher Elementary, the author, his wife and two children fled west to the small bayou town of New Iberia. When he heard it might be six months before anyone could return to the city, journalist and editor Tisserand grew concerned for his children, wondering how they would continue getting proper education. He got together with Paul Reynaud, a beloved first-grade teacher who had left a career in the restaurant industry to work at Lusher, and hatched a plan to open an interim school, christened Sugarcane Academy, at an old accounting office in New Iberia. With misery and death all around them, Reynaud focused on the positive in his teaching: The children planted seeds, wrote in personal journals and toured nearby sugarcane fields. Writing with the same warmth and humanity that distinguished his ASCAP Deems Taylor Award–winning The Kingdom of Zydeco (1998), Tisserand offers tender, revealing profiles of Reynaud, his fellow volunteer teachers and others affected by the evacuation. The author also recounts his visit to observe the dire conditions inside Lafayette’s massively overcrowded Cajundome, one of the many “sports-facilities-turned-shelters” stretched across Louisiana. By early November, when some families returned to New Orleans, the Sugarcane Academy followed and continued flourishing at Loyola University. Culled from his “evacuee journal” in the Gambit Weekly, an alternative newspaper Tisserand edited, the narrative highlights a displaced community that refused to be decimated.
Inspirational and heartwarming.