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In Andrew's path, all children come from 'broken homes'

By
JANE SUTTON

MIAMI -- For teachers and counselors at Dade County's hurricane- ravaged schools, comforting children from 'broken homes' took on a whole new meaning as classes resumed Monday.

'My house broke down and we moved to a new house and it broke down too,' said Maria Torres, a Perrine Elementary second-grader attending split-shift classes at Coral Reef Elementary until her school is repaired.

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Her mother, Raquel Torres, confirmed the 7-year-old's account, explaining that the family had moved to an apartment after Hurricane Andrew demolished their original home.

They had underestimated the damage the apartment sustained in the hurricane and a heavy rainstorm brought down its roof as well.

Maria and her 6-year-old brother Mario still have nightmares about the hurricane, their mother said.

'They saw it all, the kitchen, the windows, everything came down,' Raquel Torres said.

She worries that her children will fall behind in their education because of the two-week hurricane delay and the shortened classes necessitated by the split schedule. They attend class from 12:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

'They're used to taking naps at 3:30 or 4 p.m. She has a problem staying awake,' Torres said, pointing to her daughter.

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Torres has explained to the children that 'the G.I. Joes' -- soldiers and sailors -- are helping fix their old school.

Coral Reef fifth grader Elizabeth Davenport, on the opposite end of the schedule split, complained of having to get up at 6 a.m. and leave for school before daybreak for classes that run from 7 a.m. to noon.

Coral Reef school counselor Lois Schumacher, who now lives in a camper parked beside her damaged home, sympathizes, and said she has seen 'a little more separation anxiety than normal' as the children adjust to the changes brought by the hurricane.

Coral Reef PTA president Felicia Christin, who helped volunteer parents steer bewildered children to their classrooms and buses, expects the return to school will help her three youngsters cope.

'The kids need to be back. They need to go see their friends, see what happened to them,' Christin said. 'They need to talk about it and tell their stories. That's part of the healing process.'

But Christin, who heads Girl Scout Troop 81, jokes that she expects little enthusiasm for Scout camp this year.

'The kids have camped enough this year. They need a week at the Hilton,' she said.

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The split-shift children cannot leave their belongings in their desks because other students will be using them after they leave. Some are riding buses for the first time.

Others, like 7-year-old Mikey Metrel, are temporarily living in homes far from their old neighborhoods. His mother, Betty Metral, is driving him back and forth to Coral Reef Elementary so he can keep the same teachers and classmates once the family is able to move back into their damaged home.

'I don't want him to go to one school and then another one. He's been through enough,' she said.

Providing hot meals has taken on greater importance than usual for the schools.

'If they've been eating out ofcans for three weeks, we wanted to make sure they could have a hot meal,' said Judy Kramer, a food and nutrition coordinator for the school district.

Under an order from Gov. Lawton Chiles, breakfast and lunch will be free for all students for the first two weeks, partly because the paperwork requirements for the subsidized lunch program would divert workers from more pressing needs.

'We have gotten a stay of execution on the paperwork,' Kramer said.

Several children wore 'I Survived Hurricane Andrew' and 'Andrew Busters' T-shirts as school resumed Monday.

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Sympathy and encouragement poured in from strangers. Students in Mount Morris, Ill., sent crayon drawings and greetings to the students in Luvoina Stewart's second-grade class at Perrine Elementary, who are among those attending class in the afternoon at Coral Reef.

'I'm sorry you lost your house,' one Illinois student wrote on a picture of a house surrounded by rain and hearts.

Jo Ann Cann, principal of Blue Lakes Elementary in south Dade County, said it will be two or three months before teachers know which students are coming back.

'We've been told 3,000 children have moved to different areas,' Cann said.

Blue Lakes was under-enrolled enough to absorb 650 to 700 extra students from the devastated R.R. Moten Elementary without going to double shifts.

Moten's school counselor, Lenore Cambridge, said teachers have been alerted to look for signs of depression, anxiety and misplaced anger among children whose lives were disrupted by the storm.

'They may think their parents will be taken away. Some children really feel that their parents should have gotten better homes, or they don't trust their parents as a result of this happening,' Cambridge said.

The children must realize that many of their teachers lost their homes too, and that even adults are powerless to halt a storm like Andrew.

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'They just have to realize everybody lost something,' she said.

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