Evacuees Getting on with Life

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It's been more than half a year since Hurricane Katrina turned their world upside down. Thousands of evacuee students -- and the Southeast Texas schools that have taken them in -- have walked a fine line -- between fitting in here and loyalty to friends back home.

The largely working class Alief district on Houston's west side has absorbed around three-thousand evacuee students.

That's proportionally higher than the neighboring Houston school district -- which received more displaced Gulf Coast students than any school system in the country.

The Alief district's 47-thousand students speak nearly 70 languages. And with the influx of evacuees, the number of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch in Alief jumped nearly eight points overnight to more than 70 percent.

Despite the hardship, the district has gone out of its way to help the displaced students blend in.

A clothing pantry provided the khaki pants and solid-color polo shirts required at the district's elementary and middle schools. It avoided missteps such as the Houston district's early decision to issue evacuees brightly colored wristbands, which were immediately
equated with gang colors.

Teachers and other staff in Alief were asked to refer to these new students as "survivors," not evacuees or refugees.

The district's counseling coordinator, Doctor Jamey Cheek, credits this approach with helping Alief avoid the all-out battles between evacuees and locals that have plagued other districts.