Feature stories

Hurricane Sandy — Pitching In, Reaching Out

Two taken from us by the storm

Jessie Streich-KestJessie Streich-Kest Jessie Streich-Kest: ‘The happiest person in school’

The varied nature of the many communities mourning Jessie Streich-Kest is in itself a tribute to the young teacher and activist whose life touched many and was claimed by Hurricane Sandy on Oct. 29.

Streich-Kest, 24, was walking her dog in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, when a tree fell and crushed her and her childhood friend.

The UFT community grieves the loss of one of its newest and most vibrant members. Streich-Kest, who began her special education teaching career this year, was on fire with passion for her work, family and friends said. She was confident in the rightness of her chosen career, which she envisioned as serving students most in need and fighting to improve public schools.

The Bushwick School for Social Justice in Brooklyn is mourning a teacher who had already made a deep impression in just the short while she was there.“You never gave up on us even when we gave up on ourselves,” one student wrote for a Nov. 8 tribute in which a scholarship was founded in the 10th-grade teacher’s name.

Earlier, at a Nov. 4 memorial service, when an outpouring of people filled Park Slope’s Beth Elohim, her principal was one of many speakers — some of whom knew Streich-Kest since she was little — who were in awe of her wisdom and selflessness.

“In the first week of school, the roughest week of a teacher’s life, Jessie took the time to ask me how I was doing,” said Principal Lucas Cooke. “That’s just one indicator of how she was driven to support and work with and take care of the people around her.”

The social activism movement is mourning an energetic organizer, one who was inspired by her father Jon Kest, the executive director for New York Communities for Change, and by her mother Fran Streich, the UFT Manhattan parent and community liaison.

Streich said that it was her daughter’s love for her teachers at Edward R. Murrow HS in Brooklyn that inspired her to become a teacher.

One teacher among the bereaved staff at Murrow, Robert Elstein, said, “Jessie was always the happiest person I would encounter on a daily basis in the school, and when she smiled she emanated true beauty.”

After listing her many activities, in particular those as president of the Social Activism Club, Elstein observed, “She was a selfless young woman, who I always expected would make a difference in the world. And she did.”

To donate to the Jessie Streich-Kest Fund for animal rescue, go to facebook.com/JessieStreichKestMemorial. To donate to the scholarship fund, call the Bushwick School for Social Justice at 1-718-381-7100, ext. 5001.


Henry SullivanHenry Sullivan Henry Sullivan: ‘Every new science teacher’s best friend’

Because of their limited English, the newly arrived immigrants that Henry Sullivan took under his wing in his English-as-a-second-language science class did not learn of their teacher’s death in the news. When they heard about it on the first day back from Hurricane Sandy, they broke down and wept.

The entire school community at Abraham Lincoln HS in Brooklyn, where Sullivan taught for more than 10 years, is grieving for a man known for his generosity, integrity and humor. A versatile medical science teacher who counted CPR classes among his courses at the school’s Institute for Professional Sciences, the 57-year-old educator taught generations of students how to take care of themselves in emergencies and save the lives of others.

But he could not save his own life battling the rapidly rising, overpowering surge of water during the storm. Sullivan went to the basement of his home in Far Rockaway to turn off the gas and never made it back upstairs.

“We suffered a great loss… a teacher, colleague and friend,” wrote colleague Sarah Fanning, among those at the school who are writing their memories for a book of tribute to be presented to Sullivan’s wife Brenda. “His sense of humor and personal integrity set him apart. He was able to forge significant relationships with every member of the department and also with the students he taught.”

Teacher Andrew Stergio lauded Sullivan for “his laid-back nature and way of describing things that made you feel comfortable. When I first started, he gave me ideas and even gave me all of his lessons on a flash drive. He helped you whenever you needed it.”

Abigail Stein, another teacher, said that Sullivan “had a good soul. When anyone was upset, he calmed them down. He gave excellent advice on dealing with students, administrators, family, life.”

Sullivan was, in the words of Edward Rubinchuk, the assistant principal of science careers, “every new science teacher’s best friend.” Rubinchuk described how Sullivan would drop whatever he was working on, “even in the midst of the busiest times of year, to help out a colleague in need.”

According to Rubinchuk, Sullivan expected great things from students and applied classroom learning to real-world experiences, inspiring many to explore careers in the health fields. He said that Sullivan’s “generosity, of himself, his knowledge and his time, will leave a major impression on his colleagues and students for years to come.”

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