The Staten Island school I.S. 2 is almost a mile away from Midland Beach. Still, when the Sandy storm surge hit New York, Principal Adrienne Stallone said it flooded the basement with five feet of water.
“Unfortunately for us the boilers, the electrical system, the fire alarm system, everything is rusted and fried,” she said, adding that she even saw fish swimming in the watery mess.
Workers are cleaning the building now but it’s not expected to reopen soon. That’s why I.S. 2 has relocated to nearby New Dorp High School. Stallone and her fellow administrators have set up a command center in the PTA office. A parent coordinator and some assistant principals huddle over paperwork, coordinating supplies for their teachers and students.
Thirteen-year-old Julia Porazzo and 12-year-old Francesca Berisa are staying with friends and family because their homes were flooded. Staffers offer to help them get whatever supplies and clothes they need. The girls look tired, but they say they’re glad to be here.
“I wanted to go to school to see everybody,” said Francesca.
There was a little confusion Wednesday, the first day many of the city’s 56 schools that sustained storm damage re-opened in new locations. Some eighth graders wound up in a high school culinary class, where the older students were cooking up meals for local residents. The I.S. 2 teachers cautioned their students to be respectful in the hallway. Lunch times were staggered to accommodate the extra kids, with some students eating at 9:30 a.m.
But it worked. Stallone said 80 percent of her 1,000 students made it to school. Buses arrived at the old location to get some kids to the New Dorp, which is a short walk away. Publishers donated books. Even some retired New York Knicks stopped by the school to keep up morale.
The principal of New Dorp, Deirdre DeAngelis, made room for the other school by moving some of her own classes into offices and even a cafeteria. She gave up a total of 25 classrooms, a whole wing of the building, allowing I.S. 2 to have its own separate entrance.
“We spent three straight days planning on the co-habitation,” she said. “And we have pretty much every detail worked out from entrance in the morning to dismissal in the afternoon, the cafeteria, the halls the classroom space.”
The city originally planned to send the I.S. 2 students to three separate schools. But DeAngelis, whose own home was flooded by Sandy, lobbied the Department of Education with Stallone to keep the whole school together under her roof. She said the students and teachers had been through enough already.
New Dorp has also become a community resource since the storm. It organized massive donations of food, clothes and toiletries which were delivered to residents by teachers and students. There’s still a large stockpile in a room behind DeAngelis’s office. Teachers duck in to get extra socks and clothes for needy students.
Juniors Ajsela Abazi and Nour Safa spent several days helping the relief effort. They said it felt good to help others, especially when they made young children smile with toys. Ajsela said she doesn’t mind sharing her school.
“Cause you know school has to go on,” she said. “It can’t just be put on hold because of a storm. We all have to work together, come together and help one another.”
The city is hoping that spirit will last. It could be weeks before dozens of schools return to their buildings. And some of them have been relocated across the city, causing a whole new set of headaches for families and teachers already feeling displaced.