First Lady Visits Coast To Talk Housing & Education

First Lady Laura Bush was back on the Mississippi Gulf Coast on Thursday and she says she can see the progress being made here especially when it comes to education. Two of the three stops Mrs. Bush made centered around improving education. The former teacher and librarian gave the coast high marks for the strides made so far.

The First Lady had lunch with school principals and administrators from three schools that Katrina either damaged or destroyed. They talked about the importance of rebuilding so that children can once again attend school in their communities.

At the D'Iberville Boys and Girls Club Mrs. Bush said she learned an important lesson about how to help children cope.

With their markers and their imaginations, 7-year-old Sydney Murphy and other children at the D'Iberville Boys and Girls Club recreated the place that kept their families safe during Hurricane Katrina.

Sydney Murphy said, "I drew a hotel and I drew my family. And I drew a tree with little animals on it. 

The First Lady listened while the children were encouraged to share their feelings.

"One of the interesting things about all over their stories is how other people helped them have a safe place," said Mrs. Bush. "They were safe at their grandmother's house. They were with their sister fishing. With their dogs or they were safe because the hotel employees were kind to them when they had to stay in a hotel."

Mrs. Bush went on to say how the children's stories illustrate how much people depend on one another.

The first lady also took part in a round table discussion with area educators about what is being done to help kids having a hard time adjusting to life after Katrina.

Harrison County school superintendent Henry Arledge said "Some of the issues are drop outs, the percentage of drop outs we have within the Harrison County School district. Children that are misbehaving, that have social issues, that go back to family issues."

"We talked about the responsibilities of teachers and principals to their communities and the responsibilities they feel to their children," said Mrs. Bush. "All the children across the Gulf Coast and how important school is for children to have a normal life."

Sydney Murphy says it's nice to know that when children talk about their feelings someone who cares is listening.

"Because I can express my feelings and it feels good," said Murphy.

As far as housing, the first lady said believes our area will lead the way in new types of home building. Mrs. Bush toured the Katrina Cottages on Government Street in Ocean Springs. Three homes are in Cottage Square now, the developer says a total of 17 will be built as an affordable housing alternative.

Mrs. Bush says she was impressed by what she saw.

"I really do believe that the Gulf Coast is going to end up being an innovator for the rest of the world, certainly for the United States. We talk about ways to do quick, affordable but still sturdy and safe housing."

The developer says the Katrina Cottages range from 500 to 1300 square feet in size and start at about $125,000.