Ninth Ward Trip with 7th Graders Gets Better Each Year

Taken at the Flood Wall in the Ninth Ward, New Orleans, by Emily Gibbons, 7th grade PFTSTA
Last week, the seventh graders with their English teacher, Ms. Ritter, the librarian, that's me, their math teacher, Ms. Klusendorf and another ELA teacher, Ms. Bordelon traveled 30 minutes from school to visit the Ninth Ward in New Orleans. This is our fourth annual trip to walk in the footsteps of the characters in Jewell Parker Rhodes' book, Ninth Ward. After the first reading of this book, we realized that the students really had no clue about the Ninth Ward, and this group was only about three years old the year that Hurricane Katrina made landfall, so a visit gives them a first hand look at the devastation and reconstruction wrought by the hurricane.

Before embarking on the field trip, the students are asked to complete a pathfinder that I created. I made a Livebinder with video, audio, and text describing and explaining all the stops that we will be making on the field trip. This is an important piece to this project because it gives the students a chance to get some background knowledge. You can find the Livebinder with the pathfinder, links to resources, and rubric for the product that they create upon returning to school here.  

Ruby Bridges walking into Frantz school with the federal marshals in 1960
We begin in the upper Ninth Ward at Frantz School. This is an historic site because, Ruby Bridges, an African American, was the first to integrate New Orleans public schools in 1960 when she was in 1st grade. Ms. Bridges fought to keep the school from being razed after Hurricane Katrina. The facade was kept, and a brand new building was constructed behind the front of the school. Today it is home to a charter school, Akili

The facade of the school is still the same Art Deco seen in the 1960's

The next stop on the trip is about three blocks away, and we can walk there. That is where Harry Connick, Jr. and Branford Marsalis built the Musician's Village with help from Habitat for Humanity. The homes all look very similar in style and are raised off of the ground out of harms way from flooding. This stop is always a highlight because the students like to play in the pocket park. You may think that 7th graders are too big for a playground, but they don't think so. We give them about 10 minutes to play in the park. 

The houses stand in a row and were all built with a similar architecture plan

Having fun at the playground
Next, we take the Industrial Canal bridge and travel to the Lower Ninth Ward. The first stop is the area that Brad Pitt created for his Make it Right Foundation. In this section very near where the levee was breached, you will find a cluster of homes designed by architects from around the world. The students were surprised that each of the homes looked so different. There are still many empty lots in this area because all damaged houses were torn down in anticipation of new construction. We spent about twenty minutes here walking up and down the streets looking at the homes, walking to the levee, and visiting the small memorial park. 

The entire 7th grade and the teachers pose for a picture

Standing near one of the Make it Right Houses

Another Make it Right House
After leaving this area, I text the librarian, Gertrude Romero, at Dr. King Charter School. I tell her that we are on our way. Two years ago, Cheryl Bordelon (ELA teacher) wrote a service learning grant with the local Brown Foundation to help us keep this field trip alive. One purpose of the trip is to see the Ninth Ward, the other purpose is to visit King and tell stories to the 1st graders there. We first walk into the MLK Public Library which is attached to the school. There we find out how badly the library was damaged during and after the storm. 

The library manager tells us what happened to the library before and after the storm
We bring all 75 students in 1st grade a copy of the Dr. Seuss' book, The Sneetches. Two students put on a brief Sneetches puppet show, and then we had a student read the book and others act out the whole story. The school's library is filled with 75 1st graders and 87 7th graders. It is crazy crowded. For those sitting under the air conditioner and unable to hear the reader, they just followed along in the book. 

Puppet show

Both of these Sneetches have stars
The whole cast
Writing in the blank book made the experience fun

Some happy book buddies
Once the play was over, each 7th grader worked with their 1st grade book buddy to write a story in the blank books that we brought for them. Some of the 1st graders dictated to the 7th grader, some of the book buddies wrote together, some of the 1st graders wrote their story on their own. Snacks were given to everyone provided by King. We spent about 45 minutes in the school working with the little ones. It seemed to be an extremely positive experience for everyone. Next year, we talked about having the King students visit our school. 

I was presented with a card for our school signed by all the 1st graders
This is a collaborative project from start to finish. We are very proud of how it has grown and developed since the first time that we read Rhodes' book in 2011. Collaboration happens at the school level, the city level, and in the past, we have collaborated on this project with schools out of state. That didn't happen this year, but we will be on the look out for teachers or librarians elsewhere who are interested in having their students learn about our town because we are certainly interested in learning about them. Let me know if that is something you might like to do.


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