Lindenhurst schools still weathering Sandy

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer talks with children U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer talks with children about how Sandy impacted their commutes directly after the storm hit back in October at Harding Avenue Elementary School in Lindenhurst. (April 8, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / Jessica Rotkiewicz

advertisement | advertise on newsday

As the school year winds down, faculty in one Long Island district is predicting the impact of superstorm Sandy will continue to be felt in September.

"This is not going to go away anytime soon," said Brian Chamberlin, principal of Harding Avenue Elementary in Lindenhurst, which had 116 students -- a third of its enrollment -- displaced.

Chamberlin said he expects some of the nearly 40 students still displaced at his school will not be back home come fall. "I'm just hoping down the road we don't end up losing families."

Lindenhurst -- one of the districts hit hardest by Sandy -- spent most of the year dealing with hundreds of its families either displaced or struggling to remain in their homes. "It's been a difficult year, absolutely," Chamberlin said. "But it also brought the community together."

District Superintendent Richard Nathan said the experience showed the district can handle tragedy. "We were proactive, not merely reactive," he said.

In the days after Sandy, faculty called families. "Right from the onset, our main roles were helping out our families to just be able to satisfy their basic needs," Chamberlin said. Staff at many schools even cooked and delivered meals.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Initially, the district bused hundreds of children from as far away as Queens and Riverhead. The number is down to about 49 families, officials said. Overall, the district estimates having spent about $500,000 on busing the displaced.

Middle school principal Frank Naccarato said staff often found out from students who needed help. "We had kids, we had no idea they were displaced until rumor came down . . . because parents did not want to let us know at first," he said. "They were embarrassed."

Jessica, and Alexa Amato, ages 13 and 11, respectively, had to ride 45 minutes by bus each morning from a rented home in Seaford. "I tried to keep things together, but my little one would ask, 'When are we going home?,' " said their father, Vincent Amato, 49. The children seem "more at ease" since the family moved back home last month, he said.

Tom Dolise, a social worker at the middle school, said he fears the emotional toll of the storm will remain with some children. "I feel bad for the kids; they just seem lost at times," said Dolise, who, like other district social workers, met with children and parents after the storm. The number of children with anxiety in the school has risen from about two to 20 students this year, he said. Many have also developed weather-related fears.

"Any storm and the kids are asking if it's a hurricane and are they going to be OK," Chamberlin said.

One positive from the storm, Naccarato said, was that students became very protective of displaced friends. "You would see them at lunchtime, if they knew a kid was affected and he wanted a Snapple, say, 'Come on, let's go get a Snapple' They were doing whatever they could to help their friends."

Because students were receiving donations from around the world, many became more attuned to tragedies outside their community, faculty said.

But as recently as this month, Lindenhurst schools were still dealing with fallout from the storm: Prom dresses were donated to high school students, and Harding received thousands of dollars in donations that made their annual "Fun Day" celebration possible.

The school's mission, Chamberlin said, will continue in the fall. "We're going to do what we have to do to help our families until they don't need that help."

You also may be interested in: