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The High School That Beat Katrina

A New Orleans high school finds academic success after surviving Hurricane Katrina.

Benjamin Franklin Senior High School was the first New Orleans public school to open its doors after Hurricane Katrina. The school is ranked 16th on this year's U.S. News Best High Schools list.

Benjamin Franklin Senior High School was the first New Orleans public school to open its doors after Hurricane Katrina.

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The common experiences shared by Franklin's students after Katrina brought them closer together. Senior Ben Fleury says the ups and downs he shared with his classmates after Katrina helped him get to know everyone in his grade regardless of barriers like ethnicity. Franklin's student body differs starkly in its racial composition from the rest of the city's public school system, where 90 percent of the students are African-American. One third of Franklin's students are white, one third are black, and one third are of Asian descent.

That racial diversity even showed up in a group of Franklin students who wanted to return badly enough after Hurricane Katrina that they accepted offers to live with a Franklin teacher and his wife. One student was Caucasian, one was African-American, one was Chinese-American, and one was Vietnamese-American. Each of their families faced the same challenge of not being able to return to New Orleans after the storm. The students lived with Firneno, who thought it was only natural to help these students earn their Franklin diplomas by offering them a place to live while they were studying. Each of the students had spent at least one semester in another high school during the months Firneno and others worked tirelessly to get Franklin back online. The students appreciated Franklin even more after getting a taste of high schools where their classmates and classroom experiences simply did not measure up.

"They came back because of the school's atmosphere, their friends, the culture of the city of New Orleans, and of course wanting that diploma," Firneno says. "They worked so hard to get here and stay here, and they didn't want to throw that all away."