Staten Island schools affected by Sandy get high-profile visitors

UFT President Michael Mulgrew (left) and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan toured a storm-swept area of Staten Island between school visits today.

After Hurricane Sandy devastated Staten Island, New Dorp High School sprang into action.

Under the leadership of Principal Deidre DeAngelis, the school turned into a command center for the area, hosting a school displaced by the storm, drumming up donations from alumni, and distributing food, clothing, and blankets to students and staff members who needed them.

On Thanksgiving, New Dorp hosted a dinner for 650 families. “Matt cooked until he couldn’t cook anymore,” DeAngelis said about the school’s culinary arts teacher, Matthew Hays.

“We were so appreciative that we got help when no one else was helping us,” said Amanda Delapena, the student body vice president whose home was heavily damaged.

“I thought the story of what this school has done needs to be told,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said during a visit to the school this morning. At his invitation, U.S. Secretary of Education also visited the school, along with Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and Ernest Logan, president of the principals union.

After leaving New Dorp, Duncan and Mulgrew toured a heavily damaged neighborhood, then rejoined Walcott to visit nearby P.S. 38, where 80 percent of students were displaced by the storm.

Dozens of New Dorp’s teachers, students, and staff members gathered in the school’s mock courtroom to share stories from the storm with the officials.

Students described being separated from their parents, seeing family members injured, and escaping their flooded homes by kayak. Staff members told of returning to their homes to find everything they owned destroyed, and in some cases, not yet being able to return home at all. Others said they had weathered the storm unscathed, then joined the effort to support members of the school community who had not been so lucky.

New Dorp has has more than 2,500 students, but for nearly a decade it has been arranged into mini-schools called Small Learning Communities, facilitating personal relationships between students and teachers. DeAngelis and others said the arrangement was key to the disaster response.

“If we weren’t where we are academically, instructionally, emotionally, we could have pulled this off so quickly,” she said.

Returning to the normal rhythms of the high school calendar has been a challenge, students and teachers said.

Huda Sami, a math teacher at New Dorp High School (in striped sweater), tells city, federal, and union officials about her experiences during and after Hurricane Sandy.

“SING really helped me get back into my daily life,” said Matt McComb, referring to a musical production that the school staged recently. “It was the thing I looked forward to, instead of going back home and seeing all the dead fish in your backyard.”

Huda Sami, a math teacher, told the officials that she and her family are still bouncing among hotels and using a ladder to access their beachfront home, whose stairs were swept away. Without power at home until recently, her eight-year-old son had been doing homework by the overhead light of the family car.

Thinking about her own students, Sami said she wondered how they would be prepared for Regents exams next month. “How is this going to happen?” she asked. “How am I going to judge them to give grades?”

“It was hard to absorb information the first couple of weeks, and teachers understood that,” said Christina Awada, a senior who had been in the middle of applying to colleges when her home was flooded. “We’re kind of getting back into the normal routine now.”

Duncan said after visiting P.S. 38 – where students were collecting presents collected by Toys for Tots and books donated by the UFT — that the academic performance of schools affected by the storm was not his top priority at the moment.

“This is not a time, quite frankly, when I’m focused on exams,” he said. “It about, how can we help kids — their physical, their emotional, their psychological needs?”

He said the U.S. Department of Education would provide grants for counseling services and was looking into subsidizing exam fees for students whose families now cannot pay them.

He also said that touring disaster-affected schools, as he has done in other parts of the country before, put other education issues into perspective. In particular, he said, the city’s teacher evaluation negotiations, which officials are under pressure to conclude within weeks, should be taken in context.

“If folks can be as thoughtful, as compassionate, as hardworking, as dedicated working through this kind of issue [of recovering from Sandy], I have every confidence they can work through frankly a much more minor — an important issue, but a much more minor issue,” Duncan said.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.