Feature stories

Stress takes a holiday

Displaced Queens students and their hosts discover true meaning of Thanksgiving

Miller Photography

Wearing their UFT-donated backpacks full of school supplies, students choose from the assortment of desserts being served by art teacher Norma Allende.

Miller Photography

August Martin HS student chefs, under the watchful eye of culinary arts instructor Marie Hayes (left), begin preparing turkeys for Far Rockaway students who have been relocated to a Jamaica middle school.

Miller Photography

At the Community Feast, Spanish teacher Viviana Fitzgerald serves up turkey prepared by the August Martin HS culinary students to kids relocated from PS/MS 105 in Far Rockaway.

Thanksgiving took on new meaning for the students and staff from PS/MS 105 in storm-ravaged Far Rockaway when their welcoming hosts at JHS 72 in Jamaica invited them to share a preholiday Community Feast — turkey and all the trimmings.

It was truly a community event with everyone pitching in. The feast began miles away at August Martin HS where, under the watchful eye of culinary arts instructor Marie Hayes, student chefs cleaned, seasoned and roasted five large turkeys donated by the UFT.

Hurricane Sandy left many of the 300 4th- to 8th-grade students and their teachers homeless, but everyone at their temporary home at JHS 72 reached out to make sure their Thanksgiving would be a memorable one.

Busy setting up a long table of desserts, science teacher Susan Masullo said, “We don’t know what our kids will be able to get at home under the circumstances so they need something special like this.”

When the August Martin students reported back about how moved they were that the Far Rockaway students were so happy, Hayes said the experience was “a good life lesson for students — getting into the community and seeing that they can make a difference.”

PS/MS 105 Chapter Leader Theresa Pepe noted that most of her colleagues are from Far Rockaway, Long Beach and Breezy Point so many of them lost everything in the storm. Nevertheless, Pepe said, they come to school every day, making do without their classroom materials and holding things together for the students.

PS/MS 105 guidance counselor Jani Rubenstein said that despite seeing their Far Rockaway neighborhood become “like a war zone,” most of the students are adjusting.

Pepe noted that only 33 PS/MS 105 students made it to their new school in Jamaica on the day that schools reopened, but attendance now tops 300. With 150 students still missing, home visits are under way.

To squeeze into the second floor of JHS 72, classes are being combined — three 6th-grade classes became two classes, for example. And to make up for all their missing books and other instructional materials, PS/MS 105 teachers are writing to everyone for donations.

Adding stress to an already stressful situation, PS/MS 105 special education teacher Geralyn Brennan was on deadline for her tenure portfolio on the day of the Thanksgiving feast, but was not given a postponement even though she cannot retrieve some important documents from her home and her school.

“I’m worried I’ll be turned down because I don’t have everything I would like to have,” Brennan said.

But, for the moment, the days and weeks of stress took a holiday. Hundreds of Far Rockaway’s displaced children dug into their turkey dinners, licked their fingers and giggled with delight.

And the young August Martin chefs who had never before prepared a meal like this one looked on with pride, happy that they had brought such joy.

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