Yasmeen Khan is an associate producer covering education. You can find her stories on the air and on SchoolBook.org, WNYC’s education website.
One year ago, Sandy took its toll on thousands of New Yorkers -- and dozens of New York City school buildings. Scholars' Academy in Rockaway Beach has been slowly rebuilding after the storm flooded the building's first floor.
The school required extensive repairs and needed replacements for everything from furniture to books to musical instruments for the school band.
Around 4:00 p.m. each day, just after school, Principal Brian O'Connell thinks about how student life is creeping back to normal. It's this time that he hears the sweet sound of student athletes at work, on the school's new gym floor, preparing to host home games again this year. It's just one reminder of how far the school community has come since the storm shut the school building for months last year.
Brian O'Connell, principal of Scholars' Academy. (Yasmeen Khan)
"It was a huge struggle to assess everything, to replace everything, and to put the pieces of Scholars Academy back together," said O'Connell.
To hear more from Brian O'Connell, click on the audio player.
O'Connell insisted that the school has come back stronger, despite being displaced until January. Many of the school's students and staff, including O'Connell himself, were forced out of their homes as well.
“During Sandy – that time – I would say for, like, three months, we moved four times,” said Anniesa Baldeo, a senior. “We first went to New Jersey with my aunt and then we came back here, started with my uncle, then went to my aunt and then we stayed in my house without any heat or without any power. So, it was definitely an experience.”
Anniesa Baldeo and Barbara Lipowczan are seniors at Scholars' Academy. (Yasmeen Khan)
She said school felt like a second home so being displaced with her family in addition to being displaced from school was especially challenging.
Barbara Lipowczan, also a senior, said things certainly have returned back to normal, as much as they can. School life is back up and running to a Scholars’ Academy pace – hectic and often 10 minutes behind schedule. She also takes the same bus home after school even though she and her mom had to relocate to a new apartment.
“Definitely it feels normal. But if it actually is normal – I don’t know,” she said. “There’s still, like, one piece missing that you can't put your finger on.”
Lipowczan said that just after the storm, her mother taught her to knit. Now knitting is a way to keep her hands busy when she gets anxious about something, like an upcoming test, she said. She said she has knit several scarves at this point, which she gives away to friends.