Hammond, LA, a sleepy little town in Tangipahoa Parish, is 40 miles east of Baton Rouge and 45 miles northwest of New Orleans, and was one of five parishes so hard hit by the August recent flooding it was named a federal disaster area. Adjacent Livingston Parish, next to Tangipahoa, was so devastated that 75% of the parish was unlivable. The nightmare began August 13 and is now like a blur, according to Hammond Montessori School principal, who said schools were closed for seven days and community volunteers used their duck boats to comprise the Cajun Navy and collected people from car tops and house roof tops. “Even the winds and rains of Katrina pale next to this,” said Jason Oiler, principal of the school.
When fourth grade teacher Barry Johnson called his friend Oiler to ask what he could do to help, the answer “send supplies” was soon met with gusto by his energized fourth graders wanting to contribute.
Johnson and Oiler had met nine years ago through People to People’s Ambassador Leaders organization in which they participate in summer leadership seminars to train students for peace through understanding. They have spent teaching summers together at prestigious universities such as Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Pace, UCLA, and Stanford. “ We humbled by long-distance friends reaching out to help and it speaks volumes for JefCoEd, Mt. Olive, and your students and teachers to express this generosity,” says Oiler.
Students organized with their teacher the whole-school collection campaign and prepared nine boxes which were joined by one bin and two boxes from nearby Mt. Olive’s First Baptist Church and delivered by Melba Campbell and grandson Aaron Parris. Supplies included grippers, mechanical pencils, paper, scissors, binders, notebooks, pencil pouchers, crayons, rulers markers, glue, dry erase markers, and pens. Parent Lauren Clifton and her daughter already had a New Orleans trip planned and used their SUV to deliver the supplies to the stricken school.
These ambitious, initiative-driven fourth graders think out of the box on many things including careers. When Newsline asked different students their goals for the future, Newsline heard some interesting specifics: “marine biologist, singer, Olympic gymnast and then turn professional, author, environmentalist, teacher, and Olympian soccer player followed by professional dancer, forester, and FBI agent.”
The students love science in motion projects and the next class project will be to make original pots from 50 pounds of clay and have their own archeological dig to make arrowhead necklaces and identifying the animal bones they unearth, when they study the East Native Americans and the Woodland Indians. Teacher Barry Johnson after 25 years in the classroom plans his retirement after this year and says, “this is my most inquisitive class ever.”