The New New Orleans, Part 2: Elizabeth Jones

New Orleans native and school teacher


Elizabeth Jones grew up in New Orleans East and currently teaches at the charter school ReNEW Schaumburg Elementary. She and her husband live in Lakeview and their four children all attend different New Orleans schools. They lived in Houston before Hurricane Katrina but moved home in 2007.

  "The biggest change and the change that's had the most impact on my family is diversity. Growing up in New Orleans, everybody knew everybody. You associated yourself based on, 'Did you grow up in this neighborhood?' My dad is from the 7th Ward and my mama's from the Lower 9th. Now, you go back to those neighborhoods and you see such diversity — of race, religion, background, socio-economic. ... It's much more amazing to go to any neighborhood and see so much difference.

  "Another huge change that affects me on a daily basis is education. Prior to Katrina, there was Orleans Parish, and then RSD (Recovery School District) came in. RSD had a big impact on my family because my mom was at a failing school. She's a career teacher. She taught for over 30 years. She came back right after Katrina and got right back in the classroom. She wasn't worried about the political aspects and 'Oh, well they fired everybody,' she just wanted to get back in the classroom. She was a big part of why we made the decision to come back. My husband is an attorney. We were like, 'Why are we in Texas?' We have skills that would assist people in our city.

  "Education has been going through these mind-boggling changes for almost a decade since Katrina — all the charters coming in and all the talk about whether it's good or bad change.

  "Being there every day, there are some amazing educators who had no ties to New Orleans but who came because there was a need. I am not going to say it was easy. I was born and raised here. A lot of times, people would say things and I would be like, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa. You don't know us like that yet. Take a step back. You're right: There needs to be change. You're right: Families need some more support. You're right: Some of these kids are two or three grades behind level. But can the kids you taught up North get themselves home on a half-broken RTA system? Can the kids you taught elsewhere get home, support a younger sibling, cook a meal and take care of things for mama because she's got to work two jobs and she's working in another parish because that was the only option? Please look at what we do offer instead of constantly looking at what you want to give us.' That wasn't always taken positively. But for the most part, I think the people who came here did mean well. I thought it was my job as a native to show them another side of it. ... I currently work in a charter school: a charter network made up of people who taught many years in Orleans Parish. We're part of the RSD. We see more and more people who have been here for a while and now consider themselves natives. If you've been here 10 years, you might as well call yourself native. We just adopt everybody. That's something I love about my city. I like seeing happy kids and kids learning. People are becoming more and more a part of education than when I was a kid. ...

  "A big negative, and something we all struggle with is that it's very emotional to ride through neighborhoods and see so much gone. The house my husband grew up in is just a lot. The house I grew up in is half renovated and abandoned. You see where you used to buy hucklebucks and now (the house) is just gone. I make a point every few months to ride around with my children to see what's not here and to go to neighborhoods where there's new construction. You can always see people working on homes. Especially at holiday time and the church missions come down and you'll see 80 people are wearing the same red T-shirt and working on houses. I make sure my kids see that, especially my oldest daughter, she's in high school. I want her to see it's not just about what you can get. It's about what you have to give. It's hard to see how far we have to go.

  "There's a huge culture of walking in the neighborhood. I grew up in New Orleans East. We had to get in our car to go shopping, or you went to The Plaza. We live in Lakeview now. We take advantage of walking to the coffeeshop or the local grocery store. I am not going to say we don't go to Wal-Mart. I have four kids. Wal-Mart knows me. But in the middle of the week, I am going to buy that loaf of bread or gallon of milk at my local grocery, because I want to support my local grocery store. But I don't remember that from growing up, because my neighborhood was street after street of houses and to go to the store you had to get in the car.

  "There's also no such thing as going around the corner to my aunt's house because my mom ran out of something. The cousins were in and out of the house. We don't have that because my parents relocated to the West Bank. We made the decision to stay in Orleans Parish, mainly for schooling and my work. But my aunt ended up in Slidell. My uncle is still in the East. My other aunt is in the Houston area (she moved there before Katrina). That's hard. I don't like having so much distance between my family.

  "I am happy that I moved back. I am an African-American female with blond hair and blue eyes. I don't know anywhere else in the world where that could happen. I don't have to explain that here. When we were driving the moving van back and we crossed into Louisiana, my husband said, 'Baby, we're home. You don't have to worry about explaining being black anymore.' I don't have to explain it here. When we get together and take a family picture and everyone's a different color, it makes sense." — As told to Will Coviello

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