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Back to School After Sandy

Students and staff show resilience as Livingston gets back to learning.

One of the most telling signs that Livingston was returning to normal after Hurricane Sandy’s devastation was getting students back in school.

Livingston Public Schools reopened a week after the storm with changes to the calendar but with few reported problems. 

Teachers, many impacted themselves, returned to their classrooms, canceled their annual convention and sought to restore routine and instruction to nearly 6,000 students. One parent sent cookies and a note: “Thank you for showing up.”

“I never saw a school full of students happier to come to school on a Monday,” said Principal Debra Ostrowski at Mt. Pleasant Middle School.

Livingston schools suffered minor damage by fierce winds and most lost power. The high school’s field house sheltered residents whose homes were damaged or dark and cold.

NJ Spotlight featured Livingston Public School in an article on the opening of schools throughout New Jersey after Gov. Chris Christie urged districts to get teaching again as quickly as possible.

Livingston was ahead of the call, and NJ Spotlight visited Collins Elementary School, where voting was taking place in the cafeteria and the students were eating lunch in the gym.

“We’re getting back into the groove,” said Principal John Leister. “Being out for even a week is not good for kids. As resilient as they are, many of them were on play dates or their video games, not exactly reading and writing.”

“We missed a lot of school,” said Madison Lysek, a fourth grader at Mt. Pleasant Elementary School, where classes were studying the Presidential Election. “I wanted to get back to learning.”

Students at Burnet Hill were given the opportunity to tell their story of the storm in pictures and words, said Principal Lisa Steiger. “They needed to talk about it,” she said, while sorting through hundreds of drawings, one just a picture of a flashlight, others featuring a single word, “Boom.”

The drawings showed families boiling water, climbing down basement stairs to safety, tree branches down on electric wires. The project was coordinated by Art Teacher Katherine Abrams and Guidance Counselor Jacqueline Byrne.

The project gave students a chance to talk about their feelings, including one kindergartner who shared she felt guilty for not losing power, Byrne said.

Many drawings showed the children playing board games, visiting family and friends. “In so many of the pictures, they’re happy,” Steiger observed,

And then, of course, were the stories of neighbors helping neighbors, and the everyday heroes who saved the day. Science Supervisor Daniel Calligaro counted among the heroes. He wore no cape but carried crickets to feed a class geko.

Steiger hopes to compile the children’s storm stories into a book. She may already have her beginning …

“A really big tree fell and crushed my BBQ,” one student wrote. “Guess I’m not having meat for a few days.”

And a title: “The Boring Day of Drawing in the Dark.”

Livingston schools are partnering in a town-wide effort to Stuff the Bus for the “adopted” towns of Ventor and Atlantic City, areas still reeling from the superstorm.

Schools are collection sites for needed items, with volunteers stuffing a yellow school bus on Friday, November 30, with donations delivered the next day to the Sandy-ravaged communities.

“Events like Sandy put things in perspective,” said Tina Renga, the district’s Director of Guidance, “underscoring the importance of community and working hand-in-hand with our neighbors and friends,”

This was written for the Livingston Public Schools website.

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