RBR Comes Together to Help the Community in Aftermath of Hurricane
Red Bank Regional opened its doors on Monday, November 12, two weeks following Super Storm Sandy’s assault on New Jersey. Students were delighted to get back to a structured schedule in a place they feel secure and safe following a hurricane that was devastating to many of their hometowns. RBR students in Union Beach and the low-lying areas of Little Silver were particularly affected. As of this time, over 60 students and some staff members are identified as displaced due to this unprecedented catastrophe.
On the Friday following the hurricane, Principal Risa Clay and several staff members ventured out of their own storm-compromised homes to give support to the students of Union Beach, a community which was identified as one of the most seriously impacted from the hurricane. Many homes were destroyed or heavily damaged. RBR has 108 students from Union Beach, as well as students from other beach communities who attend via their K-8 sending school district arrangement with the high school.
Principal Clay commented “I brought along our counselors to provide moral support, but soon realized that what these families needed were basics--clothing, food, blankets, boots etc…”
Within a day, RBR arranged to use the Salvation Army facility for a major relief collection on Sunday and Monday, November 4 and 5. Scores of RBR staff, students and other citizens, who learned about the effort, delivered a seemingly endless stream of donated items—clothing, coats, food, baby equipment, boots, shoes, cleaning supplies etc.., An army of volunteers organized to assemble and sort the chaos into labeled boxes and bags. Trucks loaded the sorted items for delivery to Union Beach, as well as neighboring Keansburg. As the staff learned of the families’ changing needs, word went out to alter or limit the collections to essentials as cleaning supplies, non-perishable food and school supplies. Additionally, about a dozen RBR teachers, parents and other volunteers joined the “Restore the Jersey Shore” effort removing debris from homes in Union Beach.
RBR Principal Risa Clay described the event as “an experience like no other we faced before as so many of our normal communication systems were disabled.” Power did not return to the school until the weekend before opening. Staff and administration complimented the school’s maintenance staff for doing an exception job in making the opening possible. Our technology staff was also able to keep our website operational. Communication was a challenge during the two-week hiatus and was primarily conducted through the RBR alert text messaging system, which referred parents to the website with constant updates on school-opening status as well as relief efforts. On-line media also assisted in RBR communication with its community.
A delayed opening was arranged so administration and staff could plan for the arrival of students with numerous needs and obvious trauma from an event that turned their lives upside down.
“We tried to identify the whereabouts of all of our shore area families, but some were just not reachable. We knew that the school re-opening would give us the most definitive information,” Principal Clay stated.
Teachers were encouraged to have all students self-report their experiences. Time was allotted during the first class block for discussion and sharing. RBR crisis counselors were on-hand in The SOURCE, RBR’s School Based Youth Services Program, to provide immediate counseling. Teachers were also apprised of an assembled inventory of school supplies to offer students who lost these basic items.
“You will be very proud of your kids,” Principal Clay told her staff on the school’s reopening day. “When we visited them after the storm, they were most worried about their lost textbooks and returning to school as soon as possible.”
Teachers were able to easily replace that. The day went smoothly. Amazingly, almost every student from the ravaged areas returned to school with attendance rates much higher than the average school day.
RBR recognizes the long journey ahead to adjust to what is being termed “the new normal.” The SOURCE counselors and the school’s Crisis Intervention Team will remain busy as the reality and magnitude of what these students and their families lost settles in. With that in mind, the original relief effort continues, as a committee was formed to evaluate the community’s needs and how best to address them. Ideas were solicited from staff, for which there was no shortage. The most immediate needs are being met. The staff is looking to help families with building supplies and materials, technology and, for the future, providing for the holidays. The Red Bank Regional Education Foundation also donated funds to the school to create a technology loaner program for students who lost their computers as a result of the storm.
“Through times like this, we really see the spirit of our school. Even with their own personal challenges, everyone came forth and asked what they could do to help,” RBR Superintendent Dr. Jim Stefankiewicz stated.