School Opens for Katrina Evacuees

9-9-05 - Derwinique Sylvester clung to her father's leg outside the Astrodome on Thursday while waiting for the bus that would take her to her first day in one of two schools opened exclusively for Katrina's refugee children.

Her hair was expertly done. She wore a pretty white shirt bedecked with rhinestones, one of the few pieces of clothing she rescued as she and her family escaped ravaged New Orleans.

Most school districts in refugee states are absorbing Katrina's child survivors into their already crowded public schools and awaiting state and federal reimbursement. But the Houston school district, with nearly 2,000 new children to educate and the school year already in its third week, absorbed many. It also reopened two schools that it had closed last spring for low enrollment and devoted them entirely to refugee children, where it was the first day of school for everyone.

Frederick Douglass Elementary, located in one of Houston's oldest black neighborhoods in sight of downtown's skyline, opened Thursday with Derwinique and 160 others bused there from the shelter at the Astrodome. Children from the shelter at the George R. Brown Convention Center went to J.D. Ryan Elementary in a working-class neighborhood north of downtown.

On one wrist, Derwinique wore a pink band that marked her as an Astrodome resident. On the other was a blue band that said "Douglass Elementary" and her name.