LI students helping kids hit by Sandy

Monica Zenyuh looks on as students in her Monica Zenyuh looks on as students in her sixth grade class sort items they donated for the "Adopt a School" program she started at Oldfield Middle School in Greenlawn. (Dec. 4, 2012) Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

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Sixth-grader Matthew Motherway, from the Harborfields school district on the North Shore, sent best wishes in a brightly colored construction-paper card to an Oceanside school all the way to the south, where 600 students were displaced by superstorm Sandy.

"I'm sure you'll get stronger from this," the 11-year-old from Oldfield Middle School wrote to pupils at Fulton Avenue Elementary School, which Matthew's class had "adopted" to send letters, supplies and gifts.

Dozens of schools across Long Island and statewide, in a huge outpouring of support, have reached out to help schools in areas hardest hit by the storm, including East Rockaway, Island Park, Long Beach, Massapequa, Oceanside and Staten Island.

Students, teachers and staff have collected and sent cleaning supplies, school gear, books, recess equipment, toys, gift cards and other items.

They've also been raising funds for schools to purchase destroyed or damaged items, such as musical instruments, and for other expenses such as field trips and meals. Some items are for classroom use, and others are given directly to displaced students and families.

"It is very personal to each district," said Kyle McCauley Belokopitsky, assistant director for government relations with the New York State Council of School Superintendents, which launched a program statewide last month called "Schools Helping Schools" to match districts in need with those that want to help.

Fourteen school districts -- 11 of those are on Long Island -- are being adopted through the council's program by more than 30 schools and groups across the state. Even a Department of Defense school in Germany has offered assistance.

School administrators in affected areas contact McCauley Belokopitsky with their needs. Some requests, such as library books and musical instruments, are very specific, and she matches them with a group or school.

"Everyone has come together to support the students. It is a great thing for New York," she said.

Local educators have organized efforts on their own.

After Sandy hit, Oldfield Middle School teacher Monica Zenyuh thought of students on the South Shore. She emailed friends out of town, asking for help, and contacted administrators in storm-damaged areas. Her outreach grew, until 20 schools were adopted, with 48 schools and groups helping them.

She initiated a student letter- and card-writing campaign, both to educate her own students and ensure that supplies would be accompanied by a personal touch.

"I didn't want it to be only material items," she said. "I wanted them [her pupils] to think about the students and their schools and what they were all going through. Knowing their school's mascots, colors and mottos strengthened that connection."

District-to-district pairings have taken place, too. Jericho's five schools are matched with the same grades in hard-hit areas. This week, students from East Rockaway High School will join Jericho students at the high school for a talent show to raise funds to help restore East Rockaway's music program.

The efforts were noticed by others, leading to more help from the wider education community.

Island Park Superintendent Rosmarie Bovino said that under the state council of superintendents' program, her storm-ravaged district has been adopted by four upstate schools. Other groups from Long Island have reached out -- including the band Twisted Sister, which will donate a portion of proceeds from an upcoming benefit show.

Bovino's district has many needs, including replacing library books and an estimated $100,000 worth of musical instruments destroyed in the flood.

"People recognize we have a unique set of needs because we are an island community," she said. "We know the kids are going to have so much more because of their generosity and thoughtfulness."

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