A Twice Relocated School Strives to Regain Footing

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David Bostick and his four year-old son Dahron had a hectic morning on Thursday. They had just missed the bus taking kids from the Goldie Maple School PS 333 in the Rockaways to its new temporary location, PS 156. So he drove Dahron all the way to Southeastern Queens.

"I’m staying in a hotel it’s about 40 minutes away," Bostick said, explaining that his house was damaged by the storm. Getting Dahron to the bus stop meant waking up at 5:30 a.m. Other mornings the buses were late but not on Thursday, leaving the Bosticks to fend for themselves.

This was just one of the countless challenges facing the families and schools uprooted and relocated by the storm wrought by Hurricane Sandy. While buses are taking students from the damaged schools to new host schools, they haven’t always been on time. Some families have had trouble because they're living elsewhere, and mass transit has faced its own challenges due to the storm.

The situation was twice as complicated at the Goldie Maple School. The pre-K through 8th grade school first was moved to Long Island City before its students were told to relocate at two different sites closer to homw, with the lower grades at P.S. 156 in Laurelton and the older students at P.S. 147 in Cambria Heights. The school is set to return on Monday to its building, which now has a new boiler, but the after-effects of dislocation will linger well past this week.

For one thing, the school lost almost 20 percent of its student population. Principal Angela Logan said about 100 of her 578 students left the school. Of those who remained, attendance was near 75 percent last Thursday, an impressive figure given the circumstances. But Logan and her staff said they were concerned about the absent students.

"We still have students we have not been able to account for," she said. "So we have the attendance teachers checking all the reports to find out can you give us any information. We’re trying to find the siblings at neighboring schools, anything we can use to make sure they’re okay."

Meanwhile, the teachers made due with one classroom for every grade. One pre-K teacher read from a picture book about turtles to 52 students, all squeezed together on a rug while two other teachers looked on. Teacher Tina Cohen said without supplies she had to improvise.

"They’re learning about turtles so they’re going to make a turtle," she said. How? With a paper plate. "Isn’t that resourceful?" she grinned.

Logan and her staff were grateful to the two host schools, and having a whole week without managing a move helped the teachers and staff create a climate or normalcy for the students. Still, Goldie Maple Academy was hampered in its operation.

"We don’t have access to simple things like a copier to send notices home with students," assistant principal Melissa Compson said, explaining that she didn't want to make the host school foot the bill. And there were other limitations, such as not enough computers and classes held in trailers.

But having a week without a major move enabled teachers and staff to create some sense of normalcy.

Principal Logan said she was thrilled to receive the news on Friday that her divided school would be reunited Monday in their repaired school.

"My hope is that those who can, can come back to us," she said, adding that her staff would be making calls and sending emails over the weekend to the school's scattered community of families.