Rockaway School Last in NYC to Reopen After Sandy



Scholars' Academy in Rockaway Park sustained serious damage in the storm.
Scholars’ Academy in Rockaway Park sustained serious damage in the storm.

Scholars’ Academy in Rockaway Park, the last New York City school still closed 10 weeks after Sandy, is getting a few finishing touches from teachers eager to resume classes Friday—including some Long Island-based staffers still making storm repairs at home.

The ground floor of the highly ranked middle and high school for gifted students had to be gutted after flood waters rushed in from Jamaica Bay, the Atlantic Ocean and the neighboring sewage treatment plant. Thousands of dollars in school supplies were lost in the floods and some electronics that weren’t destroyed were stolen by looters.

The school is halfway between Breezy Point—the community on the western tip of the Rockaway peninsula that lost 126 homes in a mid-superstorm blaze—and Long Beach to the east, among the hardest-hit LI towns.

But now, Scholars is back.

“It was really hard for me to be away during this,” said Blythe Worster, a Scholars’ art teacher from Bellmore who was on maternity leave until Jan. 2 after giving birth to her first child two days before Sandy. “I was just so helpless.”

After she and her family cleaned up from 5-foot flood waters that rushed into the basement of her new house, Worster returned to the Rockaways to put her classroom back together. She and colleagues got help via Donors Choose, an education-focused fundraising website.

“Sandy came in and did a number on us,” Brian O’Connell, the school’s principal, told CNN. “It really adds up because some of these items are quite expensive.”

About half of Scholars’ students and around a third of the staffers—O’Connell and Worster included—were temporarily displaced from their homes by the storm. The school’s 642 students met for class in East New York during the cleanup.

But they’re not complaining. The recovery time for the battered school and continuing efforts in the devastated surrounding community ultimately proved a lesson in resilience for students and teachers alike.

Athena Mcdonaldsmith, a Scholars’ student who lives near the school and endured serious flooding at home, told The Wave, the Rockaway’s local newspaper, she joined in the volunteer effort despite also being in need of assistance.

She was quoted as saying, “Sandy really hit Rockaway hard, but the pride and strength that has come from this disaster is truly a force to be reckoned with, one that no storm could destroy.”

-With Kathy Kim