As shore communities continue the long recovery from Superstorm Sandy, teachers in badly-hit towns have had the challenging task of trying to help their students keep pace with learning.
Hugh J. Boyd elementary school in Seaside Heights had at least three feet of water in it during the storm. Teachers and students have found a new home, but new classrooms were only the beginning.
"Morning! Tara, how are you?" asks superintendent Tom Parlapanides as he greets students. "Paisan!"
It's a typical start to the day, at Central Regional High school in Bayville, N.J. — typical for the new normal, that is.
One hundred and forty children, from Pre-K through grade 6, are sharing the Central Regional building, with 1,300 teenagers. Parlapanides says it was the best option after Hugh J. Boyd elementary school was left with a million dollars of damage.
"Well, we had some roof damage, so we're looking at a new roof. We're renovating, they had carpets there, so we're ripping out all the carpets, just for air quality as well," he said. "A lot of the heating units were on the floor, so they were all damaged, so, so basically its going to be almost a brand new school when we go back there."
Which won't be until summer at the earliest. Until then, the littlest students have moved into the history wing of Central, where they often rub elbows with the eldest.
First grader Julionna Barr says sharing the halls with older kids is "pretty fun....because they say we're cute. That's funny!"
Julionna's class size has shrunk, since the move as dozens of her schoolmates settled into various schools in Ocean and Burlington counties. With the same number of elementary teachers, many are now team-teaching, allowing for more one-on-one time. Some high schoolers are helping out with tutoring. Parlapanides says only partly tongue-in-cheek, the result might make for an intriguing study.
"It would be interesting, because even with the two teachers now in one classroom, what impact would that have on education?" asks Parlapanides. "I think with the big brothers/big sisters, how does that impact, cause now they're helping, they read to the kids, so I think it's a new dynamic, that this might be a way to move education completely in America, put an elementary school in every high school!"
But in the beginning, it was a challenge to transition dozens of young children, already forced from their homes, to a new school building said first grade teacher Lori Beers.
"They didn't have classrooms for us, so we were 100 students, and 30 adults in one large room," said Beers. "We tease that it was cafeteria-style teaching, we had no supplies, we had tables to sit at, with not enough chairs."
But then, the high school teachers set aside the history wing for elementary classrooms and supplies started arriving.
"One school donated child desks for us," Beers said. "Reading curriculums started pouring in, money poured in. And again, the beginning was tough, we had no supplies, but now we feel we're able to do our job and start teaching again."
Beers says learning is for the most part back to normal, although longer bus rides have shortened the school day.
"Because of the bus situation, there's a chunk of our day that's been cut out so we can't teach, so some of the things have to go by the wayside, but basically, reading and math is back on schedule and back on target," said Beers.
Children, of course, weren't the only ones to make an adjustment. Spanish teacher Sandra Nolan was flooded out during Sandy. At one point she was living at a friend's home in Bayville, with 17 other people, and one and a half bathrooms.
"In a sense I was happy, to come and work in here, because you have something to do with your time, you don't want to think about it so much," said Nolan. "You don't think this is going to happen to you."
Nolan says it was important to provide stability for the kids despite uncertainty. "You don't know if you're going to be able to provide to our kids, luckily we didn't lose our jobs. I consider myself lucky, and blessed," she said.
Teachers and kids in this brightly decorated, cheerful corner of Central Regional are nothing if not resilient. Superintendent Parlapanides says even the high schoolers are benefiting: standing a little straighter, and perhaps behaving a little better.
"Because they see the little kids, and out of respect they don't curse," he said. "And when the kids walk a straight line, I can tell the high schoolers, 'look how good that line is! You guys get a straight line.'"
And despite not having time for recess, first-grader Brianna O'Brien agrees. "I don't care about recess, I only care about learning!"
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