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Teachers and students use Election Day to aid with Sandy relief

At Leon Goldstein High School of Sciences in Manhattan Beach, today’s professional development day is personal.

Perched on the water’s edge at the Kingsborough Community College campus, the school narrowly avoided serious flooding when Hurricane Sandy devastated the neighborhood last week.

When students returned on Monday, the school surveyed them about their families’ needs in the wake of the storm. Today, instead of hosting Election Day teacher training sessions, the school has been transformed into a disaster relief center, according to Kit Wainer, a teacher there.

“Teachers are making runs directly to the homes of students who filled out a questionnaire saying that they need food,” Wainer said.

In other parts of the city, parent associations are converting their usual Election Day bake sales into fundraisers for hurricane relief. And teachers are swapping planned professional development sessions for volunteer service.

(What’s happening today at your school? Let us know in the comments.)

It’s a switch that the Department of Education is facilitating, though not outright encouraging.

“Many school staff members have expressed a desire to volunteer at a shelter or other organized relief effort for Hurricane Sandy instead of attending the professional development activities at their school,” Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky told principals by email on Monday afternoon. “If you give permission, staff members who wish to volunteer may do so tomorrow rather than report to school.”

Wainer, who is active in the MORE Caucus, a minority faction within the union that called for schools to use today to do outreach to their students, said he had heard from one teacher whose principal had refused her request for permission. But many others were receiving it.

The UFT organized contingents of teachers were already planning to help clean homes and deliver food and water in Staten Island, Rockaway Beach in Queens, and Coney Island in Brooklyn. To avoid having their absence marked against them, teachers who volunteer have to get a form signed by a site supervisor saying that they really pitched in.

While teachers labored inside or out of their school buildings today, students and parents went to work for hurricane relief in the lobbies. At many of the hundreds of schools that serve as polling sites, parent associations regularly hold bake sales to take advantage of the throngs of voters who crowd into the buildings.

Four years ago, schools were hoping that record voter turnout would translate into record bake sale revenues. This year, with turnout again expected to be high, some schools decided to devote their proceeds to hurricane relief.

In Williamsburg, P.S. 84 has “adopted” P.S. 317 in Rockaway Park, Queens, where a former administrator is now principal, and P.S. 110 and P.S. 34 nearby have joined the extended family. Today, families from all three of the Brooklyn schools contributed to a multi-site bake saleto raise funds for P.S. 317, whose students will resume classes tomorrow at August Martin High School.

“For all the work we grownups have been doing, there hasn’t been much opportunity to involve our kids, especially the younger ones,” parent leader Debby Koenig wrote on her blog. “I wanted to include [my son], to show him how important it is to help others, so I came up with this scheme and the response has been amazing.”

Bake sales can be a significant source of revenue for parent associations, and some balanced their own needs with the needs of Hurricane victims. At P.S. 261 in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, bake sale proceeds went to a scholarship fund to help low-income students at the school, but there was also a jar for Sandy relief donations. At M.S. 88 in Park Slope, 25 percent of bake sale proceeds were being earmarked for hurricane relief.

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