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'It's Not Going To Be The Same': The School Year After Hurricane Sandy

Students who were displaced by Sandy are still struggling to get their academic feet back on the ground.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock.com

 

It’s been more than two months since Hurricane Sandy devastated the East Coast, but for many students, the storm has continued to affect daily life and routines. “It was pretty tough,” says Calvary, a 17-year-old high school senior from Rockaway Beach. “You have to adjust to this.” Her school was one of dozens displaced by the storm, and she was just able return to her home school, Beach Channel High, on January 2.

Monday morning, the day the storm hit, Calvary went to the store to get candy and saw how high the water was rising. “And I live by the beach too, so I was like -- it’s real out here,” she said. “And then we evacuated.” Her family fled to their church in Brooklyn and stayed there into November, since their building remained without power for several weeks. Luckily, Calvary’s home wasn’t damaged by the storm beyond lack of electricity, but several of her classmates' houses were.

Due to severe damage to the building’s heating system, Beach Channel was temporarily relocated to a larger high school, Franklin K Lane, about 9 miles away near the border of Brooklyn and Queens. Before the Department of Education began providing buses, it took Calvary over an hour to get there via public transit. And she was hardly the only one struggling. One boy, Beach Channel’s homecoming king, “came to the new school to tell [us] he’s not coming [to school] anymore,” Calvary said. “He was in gym clothes, so you knew all his stuff was really destroyed.”

It’s difficult to find much clear data about exactly how many students were displaced, transferred or forced to relocate or leave their schools due to the storm. There are over 10,000 families and 20,000 children in New York City's shelter system, but that data, from the Department of Homeless Services, does not distinguish how many of those were displaced because of the storm. It also does not include families who are staying with friends, family, or in temporary FEMA residences.

Students who lost their homes were able to enroll in a new school closer to their temporary location, or to receive transportation to their regular school thanks to an existing law meant to protect homeless students. And while 94% of NYC schools were able to reopen a week later, the Department of Education’s Web site lists 84 schools that were temporarily closed, nine of which are still relocated according to the most recent documents available. A number of schools have returned to their original sites but still have no working phone service. In November, Chancellor Walcott announced that displaced students would be able to continue their educations by taking classes online through a program called iLearnNYC (though, presumably, displaced or homeless students might have trouble accessing the Internet).

For students in highly affected areas, the storm has profoundly disrupted the flow of the academic year. KK, a seventh-grader in Far Rockaway, said it was a relief to get back to school after several weeks without power. “It felt like a normal day, like nothing happened,” she said of her first day back. When I asked what her teachers said to students on the first day back to school, KK said, “They were just happy we were okay,” but added, “They said we have to catch up on a lot of work because of the time we missed.”

The students have been preparing for the state standardized tests administered in the spring semester. “When we take the New York State tests, they’re not going to care because of the [storm]… they’re still going to give us the tests no matter what.” I asked if her teachers seemed worried about the tests, but KK said they weren’t. “They’re just making sure they give us the right education.”