After the destruction and havoc of hurricane Sandy, HALB’s first and second grades, displaced from their Long Beach home, were welcomed into Lawrence Middle School in a heart warming demonstration of community harmony.
Those two grades have just returned to Long Beach on the fourth day of Chanukah, an apt time for a Chanukat Habayit, a rededication of the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach’s beach-side home.
The week after the storm, Gary Schall, Lawrence Public Schools’ Superintendent, spoke with Richard Hagler, HALB’s Executive Director, reaching out to help the students and schools. “They used alternative multiple locations,” said Schall and noted that the district had been considering using portable classrooms at the number six school field. Initially, LMS set up classroom space in the gym but then various rooms were put into use for classroom space for the young guests, clad in uniform white shirts and dark blue pants for boys and dark blue skirts for girls. Assistant superintendent offices and the occupational and physical therapy room were made into temporary classrooms. “We could allocate the space,” said Schall. “It has no impact on public school operations; it’s very workable.” The first and second graders had gym in a fully padded room on the main floor.
Schall joked that this was “one thing that we get along with” with the teacher’s union. He introduced some HALB staff members, “We touch base periodically on details of the operation, parking, custodial. Having two schools at once is easier than two separate schools. The parents are happy. It’s phenomenal to get the logistics to work.”
A large white banner proclaiming “Lawrence Middle School Welcomes Our Friends From The Hebrew Academy of Long Beach” hung from the stately columns at the front of the majestic colonial building on Broadway in Lawrence. Inside the stained glass internal doors were two security desks, one for LMS and one for HALB. Schall noted that the age gap between the two groups, HALB’s 1st and 2nd graders and LMS’s 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th graders, was “good.” He said that the middle school students were “on their best behavior,” seeing themselves as “role models.” The harmonious sounds of a class of young voices singing Chanukah songs filled the cavernous auditorium.
“Everything is good,” said one HALB staff member. “A lot of the middle school students are saying ‘boker tov’ (good morning) and ‘shalom’ to me. The big kids are so enamored by the little guys. It’s great.” He recounted how one of the HALB students was lost in the building and a LMS student said, “I know where he goes—can I take him?” The staff member let him, watching their progress to the destination.
A HALB school nurse, Wendy Weiss, worked from a table in one of the hallways, explaining that it was a “good presence in the hallway,” reporting only minor cuts and scrapes, “nothing unusual in younger kids,” she said. “The school has handled it so well, it’s organized, the children are learning even though they are not in their regular classrooms. They are not misbehaving, they have a routine, and have what they need. It’s very good, the kids are happy.” “It’s like going on a visit,” said Schall. “It shows that the wide (age) gap is a benefit, as long as it’s supervised.”
The school offices were decorated for the December holidays. The younger uniform clad students dutifully following their teachers, the older informally clad students going about their business through the halls. “I think it’s nice that we are helping them out,” said one eighth grader. “It’s nice having them around. We say ‘hi!’” she continued, demonstrating a low hand wave. “I like it because we don’t get to see a lot of little kids, so it’s nice.”
“These are life lessons taught here,” emphasized Schall. “In times of difficulty, we can adapt and be resilient, to work as close to normal as possible. It’s an education, a tremendous example that if you face a problem you can always find a solution to the problem. You may think that losing a school is a very sad thing; people deal with it. We all made new friends, and when they are ready to go back, they had a tremendous experience and we have as well.”