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BY KAITLYN MEADE | A gaggle of teenage girls emerged from the F train subway platform at East Broadway accompanied by a harried-looking parent. One of the girls already had her Smartphone out, most likely searching for the address of her new school building. Miles Chapin was waiting for them by the exit, his red umbrella unnecessary for all but identification purposes.
“Millennium High School?” he asked, smiling wryly at the relieved mother. “Go up the stairs, that street is Madison, take a left and walk until you get to Montgomery Street and take a right. There should be a parent on the corner of Clinton with a red umbrella. He was one of 10 parents who were stationed along the route from West Broadway to two Lower East Side schools Wednesday morning, Nov. 7.
“The younger generations don’t know how to read maps anymore,” he said after making sure the group knew where to go. “They think they can do it all on their phones. But this area has a lot of streets that have been renamed, and some of the mobile companies haven’t updated their maps since the projects were built.”
Millennium High School, which has over 700 students, is one of three public schools that were temporarily relocated last week after incurring damage from Hurricane Sandy, along with Bard High School Early College. Bard was relocated to its Queens campus in Long Island City. The Urban Assembly New York Harbor School, located on Governors Island, also sustained severe damage and has been relocated indefinitely to Stuyvesant High School on Chambers St.
The Manhattan Academy of Technology and P.S. 126 were originally supposed to move on Wednesday, but they ultimately opened up at their regular location in Chinatown.
Substantial flooding in the lower levels of Millennium’s 75 Broad St. building during Sandy knocked out the electricity. While power in the area has since come back on, the school remains in the dark, making it difficult to determine the extent of the damage and the amount of time it will take to fix. Contingency plans are being made in the event that classes don’t resume there for some time.
“Once we get the power on, the [city Education Department’s] Division of School Facilities will have to tell us when we can come back,” said Angela Benfield, the school’s parent coordinator, whose son is a junior there, last week. “They have to inspect the electrical system, make sure the water is safe and make sure the outside area is safe as well.”
“Right now, there is a lot of street work,” she added. “The D.O.E. needs to make sure the students can get through it safely.”
At press time, Benfield didn’t know when the school would be moving back to its building. Until then, freshmen and sophomore classes have been moved to P.S. 184 at 327 Cherry St., while juniors and seniors are a five-minute walk away at University Neighborhood High School (at 200 Monroe St.).
Benfield said that the staff was working hard to facilitate the transition and praised principal Colin McEvoy, who took up the mantle in July, for his commitment to getting things back on track as soon as possible. “He’s kept the staff together and addressed their concerns,” she said, which include working without their materials and ensuring that the students do not fall behind after the week-and-a-half-long break.
“A relocation is disruptive to the school year,” said Benfield, a Battery Park City resident who was reminded of the lengthy displacement and confusion following the 9/11 attacks, when her son was in kindergarten.
To mitigate the confusion, Benfield and the schools’ Parents’ Association has been contacting parents continuously to update them on the situation.
“We’re trying to push for information right now so that we can make decisions,” said P.A. president Tara Silberberg. For example, a notice went out to all ninth and tenth grade parents to talk to their kids about appropriate behavior toward young students, since half the high school students are taking up residence at an elementary school.
Many elementary school parents have voiced concern about the influx of teenagers, but Benfield said the teens would have limited opportunities to interact with the children, since, “they cleared off the whole fourth floor for us and gave us a dedicated entrance and stairwell,” she said.
Among the other obstacles facing the relocated schools are early dismissal times, limited classroom space and the lack of after-school programs. “We’re being given a quarter of the space we are used to having,” Silberberg noted. “There’s not enough room to run all of our programs.”
With 98 percent of the seniors headed to four-year colleges, it is critical that students complete their applications on time — a goal made more difficult by the fact that they can’t get into their lockers until the Broad Street building opens back up again.
“My daughter is in tenth grade and can’t get into her locker. I told her that there are a lot of people down here that can’t get into their homes, so it’s her own version of that,” said Silberberg, who added, “It’s been upsetting for everyone, especially her friends on the Lower East Side.”
Transportation has also proven to be a major hurdle. The city Department of Education delivered MetroCards to each of the relocated high schools so that students can get there and back via public transit for free. Most of the students come from Lower Manhattan, but some come from the Upper West Side, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island. Although Millennium High School was relocated to another part of Lower Manhattan, many students are unfamiliar with the new area. Benfield reported that one parent in Brooklyn decided to keep her child at home during the displacement because the commute would be more than two hours long.
Silberberg assembled parent guides to assist them in getting to the new facilities on time. On the chilly morning of Wed., Nov. 7, the students were out in force, trooping to school from the subways and carpooling from Uptown.
“It’s a maze of buildings down here,” said one student as he exited the East Broadway subway station. His commute from Clinton Hill, Brooklyn was so crowded that he couldn’t get on the first two C trains that passed.
Despite the challenges, two teachers standing outside University Neighborhood High School’s entrance reported remarkably good class attendance. “They’re happy to get back and see their friends,” said special education instructor Tracy Russek.
“Even the kids who are normally late are here on time,” added her colleague Bernadette Janelle. As to whether the move was going to make things difficult for them, she said, “We’ll make it work.”