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HOST: More than four months after Hurricane Sandy, students in storm- damaged areas are still struggling to return to their academic routines. Now the school system is committing more than 2 million dollars to offer academic enrichment to students who fell behind. Jessica Gould reports.
Gladys Munez watches as construction workers replace the walls in her Red Hook apartment. Most of her belongings lie in a heap in the middle of her living room. It’s a mess. But she worries that’s nothing compared to the chaos in her son Jonathan’s head.
MUNEZ: I think what affected him was the darkness. Not having heat. One night he’s sitting in the chair he said Mommy I feel like I’m driving crazy. When are we going to get heat? When are we going to get light? I said no it’s going to take time. It’s going to come.
For thirteen days after the storm, Munez and her sixteen-year-old son sat in their public housing apartment, surrounded by darkness, wrapped in blankets — waiting out the cold. It was a month before Jonathan Munez made it back to school. And he’s still trying to catch up.
JONATHAN: Like everybody was ahead I didn’t know what to do in class because I was stuck behind because of the hurricane. A lot of my classes I’ve been getting 50s and stuff.
In other words, Jonathan is failing. Badly. And he’s not the only one. At a hearing in February, educators told city council members that many students saw their grades sink after the storm. Santos Crespo is president of the union that represents school counselors.
CRESPO: Buildings can be repaired and in some cases replaced. … But the damage that I’m talking about is the post-traumatic stress that many of the children in those areas are going through.
Crespo praised the city for investing in school buildings after the storm. But he said it’s time to invest in students and their schoolwork.
CRESPO: Whenever there’s a severe rain storm the children for lack of a better word freak out. Obviously, they’re not learning ready.
Crespo called on the city to provide tutoring for students. And later that day, the city announced it would do just that – spending an additional $2 million on “academic enrichment” for students affected by the storm. The money will go to 39 of the hardest hit schools in the next few weeks.
Studies show that students who fall behind during disasters often stay behind for years to come. Lisa Jaycox is a behavioral scientist at the RAND Corporation. She researched the impact of Hurricane Katrina on students back in 2005. And she says New Yorkers can expect students to struggle for a long time if no one intervenes now.
JAYCOX: They may do worse this year and then not get into the classes they want next year. This really has the possibility of pushing them off their trajectory.
NARR: Gladys Munez says she’s not going to let it get to that point with her son. His school won’t be getting any additional funding from the city because it wasn’t directly affected by the storm. And she plans to keep lobbying officials until Jonathan gets the services he needs.
MUNEZ: Now we’re planning to have tutoring. And maybe summer school. And see how we can push him more.
NARR: Her son Jonathan may be ready for that push now. He just started counseling through a state-sponsored program. And he says he’s beginning to feel better. He used to love basketball, but he hadn’t played since the storm. Until this week.
JONATHAN: I went to play basketball a day ago and going there it made me feel good about myself to see my friends and stuff.
NARR: He just hopes he can carry that same can-do spirit from the basketball court to the classroom.
Jessica Gould, Columbia Radio News