Columbia Journalism School

Brighton Beach Students Deal With Aftermath of Superstorm Sandy

BY JUSTIN CHAN

After Superstorm Sandy damaged her house in Brighton Beach two weeks ago, Girisha Kethees, a second grader at nearby Public School 253, stayed at a friend’s house in Queens. When the city’s education department relocated her school to Crown Heights’ Intermediate School 246 last week to continue classes, Kethees stayed home. Her pregnant stay-at-home mother Vinoj said she could not bear to tell her daughter that they had lost almost everything.

“She don’t know about that because she stayed with her friends,” the older Kethees said. “Now, she don’t have anything in her new house.”

Although classes resumed at Public School 253 on Tuesday, some students who live in the neighborhood, like the younger Kethees, are still struggling to recover two weeks after the storm hit.

“Many of them have to find other apartments because their apartments were destroyed,” said Gina Dacchille, the school’s parent coordinator. “So they’re going to be traveling, but they’re going to be traveling from Bay Ridge, from Queens and Staten Island.”

Two weeks ago, the storm left the school without power, its basement flooded and its boilers destroyed, according to the school custodian Christopher Ball. It took the following week for the school’s janitors and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to remove the water and fix the boilers, he said. As the crew worked around the clock, the education department relocated students to Intermediate School 246, where several teachers at the affected elementary school said they were warmly received.

“They gave us rooms,” said Sue Kertes, who teaches classes at all grade levels. “They even prepared the food that our children need to eat. They gave us supplies. All we had to do was ask.”

Though students from the Brighton Beach school had to adjust to their new surroundings in Crown Heights, they stayed positive, some teachers and parents said.

“They were in good spirits,” said Josephine Ocello, who teaches first grade. “You know, they were happy just to see their teachers and their school community.”

Roseanne Romeo, a Brighton Beach resident who was forced to relocate to East Flatbush with her son Jaiden, agreed.

“At first, he was a little concerned,” she said of her son, who attends prekindergarten. “But when he saw people that he knew and saw a couple of his classmates, he was more comfortable.”

But for others like pregnant stay-at-home mother and Brighton Beach resident Anna Singh, whose daughters Alyssa and Selena did not attend school last week, the road to recovery has been more difficult.

“My kids are traumatized,” Singh said. “They don’t want to come to school. The kids saw everything. Trees falling. Houses on fire.”

The education department closed most schools in heavily hit areas last Monday as workers fixed power failures and removed flood waters. While many of those schools reopened after Election Day, some, like Public School 253, remained closed, and their students and teachers were relocated to other school buildings miles away. The schools provided displaced students with Metrocards, but several parents like Angel Berla, who lives in Coney Island, said the fares were no use.

“Where I live, there was no transportation,” said Berla, whose daughters Valentina and Amira missed classes last week. “There were no trains coming to Coney Island. I don’t know why they sent them over there.”

Despite the struggles many Brighton Beach students have faced, some teachers said they were hopeful that things would return to normal soon.

“As long as we work together, we’ve been a family,” said Melissa Roberts, who teaches first grade. “These past two weeks have really shown how much we’ve been a family.”

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