Tom Sturm

Students Helping Students to Fix New Orleans Schools

Sometimes it takes a kid to get something done right. Amid hundreds of tales of greed, waste, deception, mismanagement and sheer incompetence during the aftermath of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, not many would expect to hear of a success story that was created and implemented by school kids. But that's exactly what happened in Amherst, Mass., on Sept. 17.

It began with Joshua Wolfsun, a 12-year-old from Amherst who has displayed a vastness of heart and conscience with which to match his natural reserves of musical talent, comedic nature and willingness to commit to a lot of organizing and production.

When he first learned of the Katrina disaster and began seeing images of the devastation in the city of New Orleans, Joshua took to the streets, busking (street performing) with his guitar and voice to raise money for the relief and recovery efforts in the Gulf. Before long, he had called his friend Tess Domb Sadof, a 12-year-old saxophonist who helped jazz up his street act and attract more attention, and subsequently more donations rolled in toward the cause. The duo eventually raised over $800, which they donated to the Red Cross, a decision they later re-thought after reports of the agency's mishandling of the situation surfaced.

Oddly enough, with some serendipity the pair discovered that re-thinking was precisely what was needed. After a winter of watching the crawling pace of relief efforts and wishing they could come up with a way to help out more, or at least more effectively, Joshua and Tess found exactly what they were looking for: another group of school kids some 1,500 miles away, in the heart of the situation they were trying to help resolve, who called themselves The Rethinkers.

One of the better ideas to come out of the Katrina tragedy, the program Rethink, or ''Kids Rethinking New Orleans Schools,'' was, of course, conceived and organized by kids (are you paying attention, FEMA?). Originally composed of 19 students, Rethink is committed to producing ''report cards,'' not for students or even teachers but for the schools themselves, which many have noted were sub-par even before the hurricane. Now, post-Katrina, New Orleans public schools have been described as ''filthy'' and ''ill-equipped'' to educate or even ensure the basic health and safety of the students who attend them.

Rethink held their own press conference this past summer outside the hurricane-damaged Sherwood Forest Elementary School in New Orleans East, and several Rethinkers gave testimonials describing what they think is wrong with their schools and what should be done to fix them.

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