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Hurricane victims still recovering in New Orleans


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Columbus Signature Academy — New Tech students who are eager to rewire houses and restore damaged coastlines in disaster-plagued Louisiana plan to use three vans to get there.

But what the high school students really want is a bus so more students can make the trip.

That’s where the public comes in.

Gail Nowels, who plans to take 25 of her 72 physics students, and Cinde Wirth, who plans to take eight of her 20 environmental science students, hope to raise $8,000 so they can charter a bus that would cost $13,000.

Thanks to the Bartholomew Consolidated School Foundation, $5,000 already is in the bank. It’s enough to hire three drivers and rent three vans, but not enough to allow the teachers to bring more than 36 passengers.

Or maybe someone will loan them a bus. Any donation is welcome. In fact, the group hopes a second electrician will come forward to accompany them to serve as a wiring expert who can guide them in some of the finer electrical details.

All details aside, the teachers and students look forward to making a difference from March 16 to 23 in an area still reeling from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Hurricane Isaac in 2012 and oil spills in recent years that have damaged the coast.

Factors that brought the environmental science and physics classes together for a combined trip began several months ago.

Wirth said her environmental science students last year helped stabilize the banks of the Gulf of Mexico in Grand Isle, La. Meanwhile, Nowels’ physics students worked with Housing Partnerships to rewire houses that the nonprofit builds for residents who can’t normally afford homes of their own.

CSA — New Tech stresses project-based learning, which emphasizes first-hand experiences as an effective means of learning.

But fate threw a monkey wrench into Nowels’ plan when Housing Partnerships experienced funding problems that led to it not having any houses to rewire for the students’ project. So the classes agreed to combine their trip to Louisiana’s coastal regions.

Nowels’ physics class will work with an organization called Lower 9 to rewire hurricane-damaged homes in New Orleans as the latest step in a process that is seeing each home rebuilt in phases.

Wirth’s environmental science students know at this point only that they’ll be stabilizing one or more Louisiana banks on the Gulf of Mexico. They don’t know where the group they will work with — Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program — will assign them to work.

Wirth said her group last year planted 3,000 mangrove trees for stabilization and handled various other responsibilities.

The teachers added that the combined trip gives their classes a chance for a more rounded experience than they would experience independently. That means physics students would cross over to bank stabilization and environmental science will cross over to electrical wiring.

“The tentative plan is to give every student at least one day in either location,” Wirth said. “We’re thinking this will give them a look at the whole process to see how it fits together.”

Accacia Williams, a sophomore in the physics class, called New Orleans home before she and her family moved away in 2005, the result of Hurricane Katrina destroying their house.

She was only 7 or 8 years old.

“When I found out about this from my physics class, I knew I wanted to help,” Williams said. “I know I would have loved for someone to come down and do the same thing for me.”

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