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Volcano strands 29 English students on LI

Students from the Sandon School in England sit

Students from the Sandon School in England sit down for dinner at the Uniondale Marriott. (April 21, 2010) Credit: Newsday/Photo by Danielle Finkelstein

A five-day school trip for a group of 29 English drama students has turned into a two-week saga, thanks to the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull's eruption that canceled their flight home, leaving the high schoolers and their teachers to wait out the ash cloud at the Uniondale Marriott.

Wednesday, the Sandon School students, ages 13 to 16, and their three very tired teachers gathered for dinner at the hotel's Champions restaurant.

Neil Cornmell, 38, a drama and theater studies teacher at the Essex school, said the group has been keeping busy by sticking to a daily activities schedule, and walking to Uniondale restaurants and attractions.

"The kids have been absolutely fantastic," Cornmell said. "They're so resilient."

The group, on a school break, arrived for a New York City visit on April 12, and began a planned tour of Broadway shows, the Statue of Liberty and other attractions. The volcano erupted two days later.

They thought they'd be able to leave as planned on Friday, even lining up at a departure gate at Kennedy Airport before British Airways announced their flight was canceled.

They stayed in Manhattan during the scheduled portion of their holiday, but they've been at the Uniondale hotel since their flight was canceled. They now hope to leave for the United Kingdom Friday night.

Josh Green, 14, said he's enjoyed the unexpected detour.

"To be honest, it's a nice extra holiday," he said. But he said he began to get homesick Monday, "when I heard all of my friends were going back to school."

Matthew Luck, 15, said the experience has brought the kids closer. "It's been good," Luck said, "but I think it's getting to the point where I want to go home."

Cornmell and his two fellow teachers said local businesses had offered the group discounts and freebies. Thursday, they plan to go to the Cradle of Aviation Museum as special guests.

But they all look forward to Friday night's flight. "We are pretty exhausted, but we're keeping going," Cornmell said. "We want to make sure they've had a positive experience."

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