News stories

Mulgrew brings ed secretary to storm-ravaged Staten Island

Students describe heartbreak, tell inspiring stories of role that school played

Bruce Cotler

UFT President Michael Mulgrew and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan tour the Midland Beach area which was inundated with water, leaving many homes destroyed or uninhabitable.

Bruce Cotler

Christmas came early for students at PS 38, where a majority of families have been displaced by the storm.

Bruce Cotler

Julia, a freshman at New Dorp HS, described the pain of “going back to our home which didn’t feel like a home,” after it and the beachfront community were destroyed. “To be able to walk into school and hear from teachers and guidance counselors — ‘What can we do to help?’ — and to be welcomed so warmly by people who hadn’t even met me two months ago, I feel very grateful and fortunate.”

At the request of UFT President Michael Mulgrew, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited two storm-ravaged school communities on Staten Island on Dec. 13 to learn firsthand from students, educators and family members what they endured and how they are faring in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

“I told him you need to come and look at these schools and visit the neighborhoods. Their stories are just amazing,” Mulgrew said.

In between the two visits, Duncan toured the Midland Beach neighborhood with Mulgrew to survey the damage there, where many homes remain uninhabitable.

New Dorp HS, the first stop of the day, “was a support hub for the surrounding neighborhoods,” Mulgrew said, with its principal, teachers and students providing emergency aid to the area before FEMA or any official relief efforts were on the ground.

Students and staff from the school canvassed the area and brought aid to those without heat or power — and some are still struggling without heat or electricity more than a month and a half later, Duncan and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott would learn during a roundtable discussion.

“We delivered 75 mattresses, box springs and bed frames and we’re still giving them out,” said Principal Deirdre DeAngelis. The school continues to provide warm clothing, bedding, hats, gloves and more to those in need.

Chapter Leader Shawn Ramos said that there are hundreds of students and dozens of staff members who have been displaced or seriously affected by the storm.

“We made sure we kept instruction going and our guidance counselors have been like angels from heaven, providing support so everyone can smile at the end of the day,” Ramos said.

Students and teachers told of water rising in a matter of seconds. One student described tying herself to her home so she wouldn’t be washed away; another of escaping with her family in a kayak.

“It’s great to be back in school,” one 10th-grader said. “Teachers and friends are lighting up my day.”

Other students were also grateful and emotional about how the support they received from educators was helping them to recover.

“I can’t tell you how much you inspire me,” Duncan said. “A school is more than just reading and writing. It’s about building relationships. You came together as a family. The tragedy would have been a lot worse without that.”

He promised to “see what we can do to help.”

President Barack Obama visited the school’s neighborhood on Nov. 15.

Mulgrew said that it was fortunate the school had not been damaged. “I don’t know what would have happened to these communities without this school,” he said.

At PS 38 in Midland Beach, a school Mulgrew said where 70 percent of the students were displaced from their homes, a toy distribution for students — conducted by Health Plus in conjunction with NYPD Community Affairs — was in full swing as the group arrived. In addition, the UFT, the AFT and First Book donated 1,000 books and bookmarks, giving students their pick of choice titles.

Jasmine Ruiz, a 5th-grade teacher, spoke with Barnes & Noble about students who lost everything, and the company donated 5,000 books for the school and IS 2 across the street, which had been temporarily relocated to New Dorp HS.

Parent Zhanna Lokshin, who has a 2nd-grader at the school, described how hard it is to be displaced from their home.

“Our community has really been destroyed by this,” she said. “My kids lost all their toys, so this is very touching. Every day gets a little easier. You can see some progress and know that it’s going to be better someday.”

Read more: News stories
Related topics: Hurricane Sandy
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