December 17, 2012
It was one thing for college-bound seniors at the Channel View School for Research to lose internet access and have to attend classes in a new location after Hurricane Sandy knocked their homes and school building out of commission.
But it was quite another to lose access to Jennifer Walter, the do-it-all school staff member whose job it is to help them get their college applications across the finish line. Walter’s home was flooded, along with the computers and printers she used to put together the finishing touches for students’ applications.
“She is a guidance counselor, a senior advisor. She’s everything. She’s a friend. She’s like an aunt,” Ivonne Aguiar said on Friday as she prepared to mail applications to a slew of colleges, including her top choice, Vanderbilt University.
Channel View is one of eight city high schools operated by NYC Outward Bound Schools where students send off their college applications with collective pomp and circumstance in a tradition that began last year at Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School. A top Department of Education official has held up the ritual as a low-cost strategy for preparing students for college, and Chancellor Dennis Walcott joined students at WHEELS on Friday for his second college application-mailing ceremony as seven other schools, including Channel View, held marches of their own.
Channel View teachers said they adopted the ritual after observing its effect on students at WHEELS. But Sandy challenged the school’s first effort to hold the event. Channel View and its neighbors in the Beach Channel Campus are among the last schools to remain displaced by the storm; Friday’s parade took place on the football field of Franklin K. Lane Campus, Channel View’s temporary home.
And at a time when the students needed help writing essays, filling out online applications, obtaining transcripts and sending SAT scores, Walter, the school’s high school guidance counselor, was dealing with her own personal post-Sandy trauma. Walter usually helps her students work through these basic steps during school, then spends her nights at home writing dozens of recommendation letters for individual students.
“But I lost my computers, my printers, I didn’t have access to the internet for four and a half weeks,” said Walter, who lives on Broad Channel, the community located on a thin strip of land connecting the Rockaway peninsula to the rest of Queens. “It was very difficult for me and I lost a considerable amount of days not being there for them.”
On Friday, 46 days after the storm struck, Walter said the adversity was officially in the past. She marched with 65 Channel View seniors across the football field outside their temporary building and through a throng of screaming underclassmen who waved college pennants. Walter then peeled off as the seniors handed over stacks of college applications to a postal truck parked on the track.
“With every hurdle that there has been we’ve been able to climb up the hill together,” Walter said.
Seven weeks after the storm, it remains unclear when Channel View will return to its original building on the Rockaway Peninsula. A department spokeswoman said students are scheduled to return Jan. 3, but the school’s reopening has been delayed once already, and one teacher said on Friday that officials would meet next week to make a final decision about whether the school can be habitable by then.
In the relocated space, attendance has fallen to 85 percent, down from last year’s 91 percent. Principal Patricia Tubridy said many of the missing students were still uprooted and living somewhere other than their homes. Others, she said, had enrolled in other schools and she hadn’t been notified yet.
Seniors said they were excited to participate in the collective college-application celebration because it showed their resilience.
“We’re marching today to prove that even though Sandy did push us back a llittle, we’re Rockaway-strong,” said senior Kristine Supple. “We’re going to keep fighting.”
A video from Channel View’s college-applications march is below, following by photographs from all of the marches that NYC Outward Bound schools held on Friday.