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The right stuffing
Far Rockaway school community comes through for families, each other
by Cara Metz | December 6, 2012 New York Teacher issue
A bountiful Thanksgiving dinner was held one day early, on Nov. 21, at Queens HS for Information, Research and Technology in the heart of Far Rockaway. The school invited parents and children for the day’s holiday feast that educators cooked and served. There were even baskets with turkeys and other staples for parents who wanted to bring them home.
“It was awesome — my teachers can really cook! My government teacher made the most amazing stuffing in the world!” said 12th-grader Samantha Sandoval.
What would be a lovely event in any school took on added meaning in a school that had just reopened one week prior, having been relocated in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. In an area still without functioning traffic lights and no open supermarkets, the staff has opened the school’s doors to the larger community, creating and replenishing a food pantry, distributing blankets and clothing and stocking necessities such as bottled water, flashlights and batteries.
“For some kids, this is their Thanksgiving. They still don’t have power, heat or electricity,” said global studies teacher Robert Reiman, standing amid the steaming trays of turkey, sweet potato, pie and cake.
Earth science teacher Jill Nappi lost her home in Long Beach, but didn’t miss a day of work. She said her aunt and uncle in Goshen, N.Y., posted to Facebook about her school community’s needs and collected so many donations they had to rent a large van to transport them.
“The kids know I’ve lost everything, they’ve lost everything, but it’s definitely brought the community closer together,” Nappi said.
“What’s so special is that the kids want to give back, too,” said history teacher Eric Schrick, who is also the cross-country coach. Students have helped sort the food and clothing that has been collected, and he said his team wants to give the money they had raised before the disaster to the Far Rockaway community.
“You have to give them credit,” Schrick said. “We couldn’t go to the championship, our team was displaced and couldn’t practice, but they are coming back strong. It shows their resiliency and dedication.”
Spanish teacher Ruth Tyldesley described students as very quiet and seemingly shell-shocked in their first week back in school. “They just want the normalcy of returning to school, doing class work and getting back to student activities like their dance and talent shows,” she said.
With the support of Principal Magaly Hicks, everyone on the staff opted to help with relief work in place of professional development on Election Day, and many teachers have volunteered outside school hours.
“Our teachers and their families and friends have brought in thousands of dollars worth of food and donations,” Hicks said.
“I’m extremely proud that the staff here decided to be the caregivers of this community, which has been ignored by so many others,” said UFT Special Representative Washington Sanchez.