Education Secretary Arne Duncan visited Staten Island schools Thursday to learn about the experiences of the students and teachers after Hurricane Sandy. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.
Student after student broke down in tears while telling Education Secretary Arne Duncan their stories of what happened during Hurricane Sandy and how their lives have been since. Their teachers at New Dorp High School, and even the principal, also needed tissues, as they described narrow escapes, heroic rescues and losing everything.
Duncan listened, quietly asked questions, then pledged to help.
"What's happened here, I think, will change these kids forever," he said. "And for all the trauma, I think they've learned some amazing lessons because of the adult leadership. And I'm just so appreciative. And we're in it for the long haul and we want to try and be a great partner."
He came to Staten Island Thursday at the request of Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers. Mulgrew is a Staten Islander whose home was flooded and his childhood home was destroyed.
"I just have a lot of respect for Mike," Duncan said. "And this is his home."
"I said, there are amazing stories out there, but there is also an amazing amount of need," Mulgrew said. It's a long haul. You saw the trauma that these families are dealing with. We're standing in front of a school where over 80 percent of the kids are displaced."
That school, P.S. 38, was their second stop. The New York City Police Department was in the middle of distributing holiday gifts.
"I lost my basement in the flood, and all my toys were in the basement, 'cause we used to play down there," said student Fiona Doda. "So I lost all of my toys."
Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and the union are locked in tense negotiations over a new evaluation system. Still, the chancellor joined the tour, saying when seeking recovery aid, the city and union are united.
"Any assistance that the secretary can provide," Walcott said. "That's extremely helpful in benefitting not just the school system, but the people who've been directly impacted."
Students and teachers described their schools as refuges, but said focusing on teaching or learning is difficult while their lives are in shambles. The secretary responded by saying what his goals would be.
"Making sure that we're doing everything, not just as a Department of Education but across the administration, with FEMA and others, to be supportive and be there for the long haul," he said. "I want to be held accountable for that."