More Students Return to Classroom, at Strange Schools in Strange Places
- NYC 11/08/2012 by VIVIAN YEE and JENNY ANDERSON (NY Times)

Pictured left: Eric Arnum, a parent at Bard High School Early College in Queens, pointed the way for displaced students from the  Bard Manhattan, Lower East Side school.

It had only been a week and a half, but for students and teachers in New York City’s most devastated areas, it might as well have been a whole summer.

On Wednesday, two days after most of the city’s schools reopened, students from several dozen schools too damaged to reopen finally resumed classes, but they were shoehorned into other school buildings, in unfamiliar classrooms after unfamiliar commutes. They arrived, ate lunch and left according to new schedules and among new faces.

At New Dorp High School on Staten Island, faculty members partitioned off a cafeteria to create extra classrooms and gave visiting students lunch at 9:30 a.m. A damaged school in the Rockaways had to find its own buses to bring its students to their host school. With no facilities to accommodate them in school buildings stuffed with two student populations, gym and science laboratory classes fell by the wayside.

“New school, new borough, new subways — you want to welcome them,” said Eric Arnum, a parent at Bard High School Early College in Queens, which took in the 600 students from its sister school, Bard High School Early College in Lower Manhattan. Mr. Arnum held a bright-yellow sign reading “BARD” to direct incoming students, one of whom clutched a sheet of directions to the school as he arrived, breathless and late. “These kids have been through a lot. It’s the first day of school, and a new school all over again.”

Wednesday morning brought reports of transportation hiccups, communication snarls and mass absences at several host campuses, partly the result of relocation plans that had shifted over the past several days. More than half of the 20,000 students at relocated schools did not show up.

A few students whose schools still do not have power, or whose schools were being used as evacuation shelters, did not have class on Wednesday, but all of the city’s 1.1 million students will have schools to go to on Thursday, said Dennis M. Walcott, the schools chancellor.

Brooklyn Technical High School, the prestigious Fort Greene school, reopened Wednesday, though it was still being used as a shelter by 222 people. But they were kept out of sight on the top two floors, and the school smelled not of sweat and excrement, as shelter workers had described it last week, but of bleach.

“We were really safe,” Christie Lai, a senior, said after school. “Nobody saw anybody.”

Still, there were lingering signs of what one student referred to as “the craziness.” Caution tape blocked the staircase to the cafeteria. Volunteers in fluorescent vests were a common sight. All day long, school administrators patrolled the upper floors, keeping their eyes on stairwells and bathroom doors. Students were instructed not to wander around the school.

The Bard schools were comparatively lucky, since they share a curriculum. Classrooms took two classes each; Manhattan students said they were told to expect to sit on the floor and to bring candy as a thank-you to their hosts.

With many of their lockers flooded and their curriculum disrupted, several Manhattan students predicted a chaotic period before they could resume their real studies. “Are we supposed to take notes on our laps on the floor?” wondered Sarah Irwin, 17, a senior. Still, she said, “I’d rather be at this school than shoved in with three other public schools.”

There are still 43 schools so damaged they cannot reopen, and another 13 that have no power. About 15,000 students will attend schools Thursday that still have no heat. At most host sites, school authorities sequestered visiting students and used staggered schedules to ensure that student populations would not cross paths. Nowhere was the going rougher than at schools where many of the relocated students and teachers had seen their homes or neighbors’ houses wrecked in the storm.

At New Dorp High School, which had offered space to displaced students from Staten Island’s Intermediate School 2, only half of the two schools’ combined student bodies showed up Wednesday. Staff members herded the I.S. 2 students into 23 classrooms in the south wing, stationing safety officers around the school to ensure the separation. The cafeteria was divided into multiple classrooms, transfigured into a cafeteria and transformed back into classrooms within a few hours, forcing some middle school students to eat lunch in the morning.

“That’s unfortunate, but it’s the best we can do,” Deirdre DeAngelis, New Dorp’s principal, said.

There was one bright spot to the disruptions: the school also hosted two former Knicks players, Larry Johnson and John Wallace, who spoke to students who were severely affected by the hurricane. As the players handed out mini basketballs to students seated on bleachers, Mr. Johnson asked a group of students “Are you O.K.?” “How’s your house?” and “You still have a house?”

“We have no power,” said Eni Shehu, 14, a ninth grader.

“My basement is completely flooded, and we have no power,” said Christopher Rivera, 16, a ninth grader. At Public School 13, an elementary school in East New York that took in more than 700 middle and high school students from Scholars’ Academy, a Rockaways school, parents worried about transportation and safety. Scholars’ Academy had to organize private buses for its students, and many parents had chosen to drive their children. Some had enrolled their children in another school entirely.

“I’m nervous,” said Lisa Bongiovanni, whose child had just gone into P.S. 13. “I know there are a lot of halfway houses. It’s a struggling area.”

Inside, students sat on donated chairs in makeshift classrooms.

In one room, 66 sixth graders used folding chairs and tables donated by a parent who works in the catering business. They talked about their experiences in the storm. One boy, small, with a buzz cut and bright blue eyes, started out with a joke. “It was a dark and stormy night. ...” But soon he broke down into sobs as he recounted watching the floods in his basement and the fires in Breezy Point burn down part of his neighborhood. Ann Marie Todes, a teacher, hugged him closely.

There were problems with buses arriving late, and reports of buses traveling with few students. Rockaway Park High School for Environmental Sustainability has 300 students; only 30 turned up today at their assigned new space, the Maspeth High School campus, according to Nadia Brunell, 16, who is student body president at the school. She could not attend school, she said, because of the Northeaster on Wednesday, but talked to friends who said the buses arrived to pick them up outside their home school at 10 a.m., and then got lost. “They are missing three periods,” she said.

Officials at Public School 184 on the Lower East Side designated separate entrances and stairwells for 9th and 10th graders arriving from the flooded Millennium High School on Broad Street, in part because parents at the elementary school had expressed concerns about their children mixing with teenagers.

The constraints forced Millennium to reduce the school day to little more than four hours, which students spent writing journal entries about their hurricane experiences.

“It was a little bit cramped, because we had multiple classes in one room,” said Morgan Fields, a freshman. But she was glad to be back. “I secretly missed school.”


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