Although Sandy has been over for several weeks, the fallout from the storm continues to haunt the New York City’s five boroughs. Still, the feeling of goodwill, common in the wake of natural disaster, prevails in the case of two Queens Catholic schools – the St. Camillus School and the Ave Maria Academy – whose buildings were closed after sustaining a large amount of wind and flood damage. Despite the fact that it would mean a lot of crowding, the school opened its doors to St. Camillus, until their own school house could be brought up to code and reopened.
The key to the arrangement, according to Sister Agnes White, the principal of St. Camillus, is to reestablish the routine for the students who have been knocked out of their element since the schools’ closures. That means adjustments like holding a morning assembly in the hallways — the gym remains closed for repairs — where children gather to hear announcements, say their prayers and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
Once the assembly was over, it was back to the classroom where the morning was spent recounting Sandy stories. Each child had something to share, be it dealing with displacement or bunking with relatives and friends. One girl complained about sharing the house with her brother’s friends with whom she did not get along.
Across the bridge in Belle Harbor, things were even less normal at St. Francis de Sales, the one Catholic School in Queens still not reopened at all. During the storm, the homes next to the school were destroyed in a fire. Both flames and flood scarred the doors but the building still stands. The first floor is now a staging center for hurricane relief. Upstairs, parents helped the long-time principal, Sister Patricia Chelius, prepare to move anything salvageable. The school plans to move to the vacant school building of SS. Simon and Jude in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn until the building is repaired.
Chelius admitted that the building was filthy at the moment, but promised that it was only a matter of time before the school could reopen — better and cleaner than ever.
But beyond the immediate problems, church officials are already looking at one more. With families devastated by Sandy, both emotionally and financially, will they still be in a position to cover the Catholic school tuition checks?
The feeling among educators and officials is that in addition to losing their home and their things, to maintain stability it is important to find a way to keep children in the schools they’ve grown accustomed to. To make that happen, the Catholic Foundation for Brooklyn and Queens has already begun soliciting donors. They hope to raise up to half a million dollars to be used for scholarships for those affected by Sandy.