Responding to Sandy's Devastation | Teachers College Columbia University

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Responding to Sandy's Devastation

In the wake of the hurricane, TC helps New York City rebuild

When hurricane Sandy struck New York City last fall, Teachers College was spared any significant damage. That left the College free to extend a helping hand to others across the region.

To help centralize the many TC-related efforts and make it easier for everyone to get involved, the Vice President’s Office for Diversity and Community Affairs, working closely with the Student Senate and the Office of Student Activities and Programs, reactivated TC Cares, an initiative that had previously responded to the Haitian earthquake in 2010 and the tsunami and earthquake in Japan in 2011.  

The TC Cares effort dispatched volunteers to work in distressed areas of the city, while coordinating donations of food, clothing, toys, diapers and school supplies. It also maintained a website to receive financial donations.
At the same time, the Teachers College Reading & Writing Project, which has partnered with schools across the city for more than 30 years, mounted the Literacy Lifeboats effort  to help storm-devastated schools get back on their feet. 

“So many of these schools are ones where we’ve been partners for a long time, so we were hearing directly about what had happened to them, both from their people and from our own staff,” said Lucy Calkins, TC’s Robinson Professor of Children’s Literature and founding Director of the Reading & Writing Project. “So there was just no way that we weren’t going to do something.”

Literacy Lifeboats, which raised $30,000 during its first week of operation and had more than doubled that total by mid-November, provided K—8 public schools with books, rugs, easels, bookcases and other materials to enable teachers to reconstruct literacy-rich classrooms. The initiative also provided school principals with a contingency fund to meet the most pressing needs of their communities.

Calkins also recruited more than 30 “literacy partners” to aid the Literacy Lifeboats effort. This group of well-known children’s authors and educators included: Jon Scieszka, author of The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales; Lois Lowry, author of The Giver; Andrew Hargreaves, the Thomas More Brennan Chair at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education; and Celia Oyler, TC Associate Professor of Education.

TC mobilized to help Kingsborough Community College (KCC), an institution located at the tip of Manhattan Beach Peninsula (where damage was especially severe) that serves 17,000 students. KCC President Regina Peruggi (Ed.D. ’91) said conditions at the school reminded her of camps she visited when she chaired the Commission for Refugee Women and Children. In addition to donating books, computers and clothing to KCC’s relief drive, TC faculty, students and staff provided in-person and online tutoring assistance in math and writing to KCC students.

The impact of Sandy continues, but as TC psychologist George Bonanno said in February at a gathering for educators affected by the storm, human resilience to traumatic events is greater than was generally assumed. Brian O’Connell, Principal of Scholars Academy, located on Rockaway Peninsula, and an alumnus of TC’s Cahn Fellows Program for Distinguished Principals, agreed. Sandy scattered his students across the city after the school was reassigned to temporary quarters, O’Connell said, and he worried that many might never come back. To prevent that scenario, he and his staff hired 12 yellow buses to serve seven pick-up locations across Brooklyn and Queens. One morning after the storm, O’Connell boarded a bus and asked how many students had heat or hot water. No hands went up. Then he asked how many were ready to go to school. “Every hand went up,” he said. “And it hit me: These kids are strong. Rockaway Resilient. And that became our motto.”

Published Wednesday, Jun. 26, 2013