Signs taped to the walls of Kennedy High School’s cafeterias on Nov. 15 did not advertise club meetings or school events, as usual. Some featured a SpongeBob SquarePants character who, as it happens, bears the same the name as the hurricane that destroyed many students’ and teachers’ homes – Sandy – with a red line across the character’s picture. Most of the posters, though, promoted a special community dinner.
School administrators, teachers and students gathered that night for an evening of free food and “refocusing” in the wake of the storm, which flooded waterways south of Merrick Road and damaged hundreds of homes in the south Bellmore and south Merrick neighborhoods that Kennedy serves.
The dinner’s central message was hope, said Scott Fessler, a senior and the student government president, and the word was written in Kennedy green above a painting of water in one cafeteria.
“Our community needs something like this,” Fessler said of the get-together. “We need to show that we’re here for each other.”
Bradley Seidman, a social studies teacher and the student government adviser, said that student leaders wanted to do something to benefit the community when they returned to Kennedy following an unprecedented string of school cancellations after the storm. The students presented the idea for the dinner, and the school community embraced it.
Gerard Owenburg, a Kennedy assistant principal, said that many students and their families living in south Bellmore and south Merrick were impacted by the storm. He explained that school officials would offer counseling and other services to the students, some of whom have had to take refuge elsewhere while their homes are rebuilt.
At the dinner, teachers said they could empathize with their students’ concerns. Michael DiGiovanni, who has taught in the school’s Family and Consumer Science Department for nine years, said he understands the plight of Bellmore-Merrick’s storm victims because he lives in the devastated City of Long Beach. Since the first day that students were back in school and hugging one another in the hallways, the entire school community unified, he said.