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Pa. students help Katrina-damaged schools put on homecoming

LONG BEACH, Miss.—When students at Lampeter-Strasburg High School in Lancaster, Pa., heard about the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, they first planned to send school supplies here.

But the project quickly became much bigger. The Pennsylvania students now are planning to give two high schools a homecoming celebration.

Next week, 26 students will board a chartered bus and head for South Mississippi, taking with them decorations, food, flowers, music and a photographer so that students at Long Beach and Pass Christian high schools can celebrate.

Katrina destroyed many schools and hopes for a normal school year and many special events.

Students at Long Beach returned to school "very quiet and unsure of what was happening," said Peggy Lassabe, a teacher and a student council sponsor at Long Beach. "We were told there was no money for anything—no homecoming, no prom and no annual—mainly because there are no businesses to sponsor anything."

The donations and help from Pennsylvania and elsewhere have given the Mississippi students something to look forward to.

Pass Christian, which now has 417 students after losing more than 30 percent after the hurricane, is playing Pearl River Central for its homecoming game Friday night. Long Beach, with 987 students, will play Pass Christian for its homecoming on Nov. 4.

The two schools will hold a joint homecoming dance Nov. 5 that will be featured on ABC's "Good Morning America."

Every school in the Pennsylvania district has raised money and received donations from local businesses for the project.

Last Friday, Matt Cooper, a teacher and sponsor of a community-service club at the Pennsylvania high school, mailed 400 formal dresses for the girls in Mississippi.

By Monday, the Pennsylvania students had raised $21,000 in cash and nearly that same amount in donations. The money will be used for travel expenses as well as for homecoming costs such as food, decorations and a DJ. T-shirts and plastic footballs with each school's logo also have been printed for students at Long Beach and Pass Christian.

"It really has turned out to be incredible," Cooper said. "It just blossomed into something really neat."

The Mississippi students also are getting help from other areas.

The student council at North Newton High in Morocco, Ind., sent $1,500 to help with homecoming expenses, and the Auburn University equestrian team sent 100 dresses for the girls. Erin Gaddy, a member of the team, graduated from Long Beach High School in 2002.

The Pennsylvania students will arrive in South Mississippi on Nov. 3, and they will tour the damaged schools in the area. During the football game Friday night they'll decorate the gym and the cafeteria. Saturday morning, they'll prepare the food that will be served in the cafeteria during the dance.

Some students from Lampeter-Strasburg High said they are looking forward to meeting and helping the Mississippi students.

"I put myself in their shoes, and if something like that happened to me, I would hope other people would help," said Emily Duncan, a senior at the school. "I think it will be an eye-opening experience."

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): STORMS-HOMECOMING

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099):

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