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Two Catholics Schools Shut Down By Sandy Share A Crowded Building

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TWC News: Students Finally Return To Queens Catholic Schools Damaged By Sandy
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Two reopening Catholic schools that now share the same building in the Howard Beach section of Queens held the Thursday morning assembly in crowded hallways, as Catholic school officials worked to fix another two buildings damaged by the storm. NY1's Education reporter Lindsey Christ filed the following report.

It's been almost three weeks since students from St. Camillus School in Rockaway Beach and Ave Maria Academy in Howard Beach were in class. Both Catholic schools in Queens suffered serious damage in the storm.

But on Thursday, the Howard Beach building was ready to reopen, so both schools moved in for classes.

"This school has opened their hearts and their building to us," said Sister Agnes White, the principal of St. Camillus.

Both schools' principals said despite how much has changed, routine is now important.

"The more the children can have 'normalcy,' whatever that words means today, the better for them," said White.

"We try to create this 'new normal,' whatever that new normal is," said Anthony Russo, the principal of Ave Maria.

The "normal" morning assembly happened Thursday morning, but with the gym damaged, it happened in the hallways. Still, there were greetings, announcements, prayers and the Pledge of Allegiance.

Back in classrooms, students talked about what they had been through. Each child had a story.

One second grader said a sleeping neighbor was crushed by a tree. Another said she was sharing her home with her brother's displaced friends, who she described as "nightmares."

A third girl said her house was OK, before noting that the roof blew off.

Across the bridge in Belle Harbor, things were even less normal at St. Francis de Sales, the one Catholic School in Queens still not reopened at all. During the storm, the homes next to the school were destroyed in a fire.

Both flames and flood scarred the doors but the building still stands. The first floor is now a staging center for hurricane relief.

Upstairs, parents helped the long-time principal, Sister Patricia Chelius, prepare to move anything salvageable. The school plans to move to the vacant school building of SS. Simon and Jude in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn until the building is repaired.

"We are going to come back and we're going to come back better than ever, and clean. Right now this place is filthy, with the mud and the sand and the dirt and everything, but we are going to come back," said Chelius.

Once the Catholic school buildings reopen, church officials have another concern. Families in hard-hit neighborhoods may not have the resources anymore to pay tuition bills.

The Catholic Foundation for Brooklyn and Queens is working to raise a half-million dollars for scholarships, so that no child has to leave his or her school, especially since many have lost everything else.

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