For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
January 9, 2007
Mrs. Bush's Remarks at St. Rosalie School in Louisiana
St. Rosalie School
11:47 A.M. CST
MRS. BUSH: Thank you, Madam President. Thank you, Katelyn. Thank you all very, very much. Thanks so much. Thank you very much, Katelyn. Thank you for your kind introduction, and thank you for your service to your school as student body president.
I want to recognize a few people in the audience. I'm not sure they're all here, though. Is Wendy Vitter here? I guess now. Mary Wenzel, the Principal of St. Rosalie, thank you very, very much for having us here. (Applause.) Father Jonathan Parks, Pastor of St. Rosalie; Father Jon, thank you for your very kind words. (Applause.)
Now, I think these elected officials are here. If you are, I hope you'll stand up. State Senator Chris Ullo, Louisiana State Senator, thank you, Senator, for joining us. (Applause.) State Representative Joseph Toomy from the 85th district, thank you, Representative. (Applause.) State Representative N.J. Damico from the Louisiana House, thank you for joining us. (Applause.) John Young, the Jefferson Parish Council Chairman, thank you very much, John. And Mr. LaGasse, the council member from the 2nd district, thank you very much. (Applause.) Also all the representatives from the Archdiocese of New Orleans, thank you so much for joining us today.
I want to thank everybody here for your very, very warm welcome. Every time I visit the Gulf Coast, I'm encouraged by the signs of rebuilding: the debris being cleared, the new construction, and of course, and especially, new schools. Schools are vital to the recovery that's underway. Thousands of families who left Louisiana after the hurricanes want to return. Parents want support for sons and daughters who are still grieving. They want their children to lead healthy lives, and they want their children to be able to train for good jobs. And most of all, they want good schools.
Through Mississippi and Louisiana, communities are preparing the way for families to come home. Educators and counselors are helping children cope with the trauma of the hurricanes. Later today I'll visit the Louisiana Children's Museum, where an innovative therapy program, PLAY HELPS, gives children positive outlets for their emotions. Young museum visitors stage sing-alongs and dramatic readings of Dr. Seuss. They tell their difficult Katrina stories through drawings and journals, and they design their ideal cities with building blocks. According to the museum staff, these young urban planners include lots of playgrounds.
Through PLAY HELPS, young visitors to the Louisiana Children's Museum develop their writing skills and their artistic talents. And families can heal their emotional wounds in a fun and supportive environment.
So I urge families to take your children to the Louisiana Children's Museum to see if your children can't also benefit from the programs that are there.
Then, right after I leave here, I'm going to go to lunch at Caf Reconcile. At the Caf , at-risk youth receive on-the-job training for a host of restaurant jobs -- from waiting tables to serving as Chefs de Partie.
In the weeks after the hurricanes, Caf Reconcile served hot meals to first responders and construction crews and local workers. Caf staff welcomed back area evacuees one plate of red beans and rice at a time. At Caf Reconcile, young people don't just master the perfect touf e: They also develop positive relationships and the self-esteem they need to make successful adults.
We all know, though, that young people's success starts with a good education. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita closed more than 1,100 schools, sending more than 372,000 students to new classrooms in all 50 states. Local school superintendents and principals faced the unprecedented task of rebuilding whole school districts as quickly as possible.
Many teachers lost everything in the storms, but they lost no time working to build stable and nurturing environments for their students. Many more good teachers are still needed here on the Gulf Coast, and I want to take this opportunity to urge teachers from across the nation to consider building your careers here.
Because of their efforts, students are now returning. Over the last 16 months, every school district in Mississippi has reopened. In Louisiana, 71 percent of damaged schools have reopened. In New Orleans, 56 public schools are now up and running. Many are new charter schools.
And, of course, newly rebuilt schools need new libraries. A special fund to help schools rebuild their book and material collections was established by the Laura Bush Foundation for America's Libraries. The foundation's Gulf Coast School Library Recovery Initiative has awarded approximately $2 million to 40 schools in Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, and Texas. These grants will help librarians build new collections that support their schools' curriculum. And they'll help children who use these libraries find comfort in their favorite books.
The most recent round of grants was awarded in November. Representatives from many of the 20 recipient schools are with us today, and I want to ask you all to stand. These are schools from Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)
These school people that you just applauded represent all the people across the Gulf Coast, all the people who work in schools, who have worked every day since the hurricanes to make sure their schools can reopen, that they're rebuilt, and that children can come back to their own school. We know that the routine of going to school is the most comforting routing for children, and the sooner we can get all children on the Gulf Coast back in the school they want to be in, the better off we'll all be. And certainly more families will be able to return.
St. Rosalie is one of these schools that received one of the grants. Children here love to read, and we've just toured their newly refurbished library. With the help of a grant from the Laura Bush Foundation, St. Rosalie's new library shelves will soon be stocked with new library books.
St. Rosalie also reminds us of what Father Jon just mentioned, and that is the vital role Catholic schools have played in helping children whose lives were devastated by the hurricanes. Catholic schools worked as quickly as possible to re-enroll their students. In September 2005, students from Archdiocese schools were scattered throughout 49 states. By this November, 98 percent were back, attending the school of their choice.
New Orleans Catholic schools have also opened their doors to thousands of public school students displaced by the storm. In Metairie, Archbishop Rummel Transition School helped hundreds of families return by taking students from any area school that closed. Cathedral Academy welcomed the children of first responders who lived on mercy ships immediately after Katrina. Archdiocesan representatives spent three evenings aboard those mercy ships registering students, and they asked for no tuition.
Today, 1,500 public school students remain in Catholic schools, their tuition paid entirely by the archdiocese. School superintendent Father William Maestri, who is here with us today, explains: "We don't educate children because they're Catholic. We educate children because we're Catholic." (Applause.)
Here in the close-knit community of St. Rosalie, you've taken Father Maestri's message to heart. The skies had barely cleared before your principal, Mary Wenzel, and your pastor, Father Jon, began rebuilding. With the help of Navy Seabees and the National Guard, St. Rosalie staff cleared debris and started new construction. Parents and parishioners cooked every day for the workers, and the hard work paid off. In less than two months, your doors were reopened.
St. Rosalie also welcomed many new students. The school has provided around $90,000 in tuition assistance, and no child has been turned away because his parents couldn't pay. Many moms and dads lost their jobs, and Father Jon recalls them asking, "Do I send my child to back to Catholic school, or do I fix up the bedroom?" St. Rosalie, he said, "didn't want parents to have to make that choice."
Every day, the people of St. Rosalie work small miracles through your service to students, and to one another. When a parishioner needed a bed so she could care for her 80-year-old uncle, a bedroom set was provided. When a family couldn't afford Christmas gifts for their children, the presents came from a fellow parishioner.
But the greatest gift St. Rosalie offers is its message of welcome. One family, the Silvas, feels so welcome that they decided to move here. Leslie Silva teaches 3rd grade, and her children Ilissa and Brock are St. Rosalie students. Katrina hit the Silvas hard: Leslie had just delivered her baby a week before the hurricane, and she lost her mother in the storm. The family's house was completely destroyed, and their property unusable for a trailer hookup.
Since the Silvas couldn't go home, Mary and Father Jon urged them to do the next best thing: set up their FEMA trailer in the parking lot at St. Rosalie.
Father Jon remembers how Saturday mornings would find Ilissa and Brock Silva riding around the parking lot on their bicycles. The Silvas' trailer was surrounded by toys, and other St. Rosalie children would come to play there. The lot looked a lot more like a suburban backyard than a stretch of asphalt. "It was a wonderful sight," Father Jon said. "The kids were so jubilant to be so close to the school."
Today, the Silvas have moved back into their own house -- but I know they'll also call St. Rosalie home.
The people of St. Rosalie have made this a community all families can come home to. And in communities throughout Louisiana and Mississippi, people of many backgrounds and faiths are hard at work, so that families can come home to a Gulf Coast that promises better schools and more opportunities for their children.
Each of you here today have dedicated yourselves to the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast. President Bush and I thank you very, very much for your hard work.
God bless you all. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
END 11:59 A.M. CST