The Great Neck Public Schools Sept. 24 board of education meeting began with the ''Pledge of Allegiance'' and a moment of silence for all those lost on Sept. 11, 2001. The board resolved to officially put the ''Pledge'' on the agenda for all future board of education meetings. The focus of the Sept. 24 meeting was reports on how each of the schools handled the recent terrorist attacks.
Displayed at this board of education meeting was a painting of a large, beautiful flag done by second graders at the Saddle Rock Elementary School, entitled "Hand in Hand." At a distance, it appears to be like all other flags, but the bold stripes of the flag were created by imprints of small hands that had been dipped in paint and carefully placed in straight, even rows.
In her report to the board on the schools' responses to the tragedy of Sept. 11, Dr. Shelia Terens, superintendent for elementary education, said that to walk through the elementary schools' hallways and to see the children's feelings reflected in their artwork illuminates the "life-affirming and nurturing atmospheres" that the teachers, administrators, custodians, secretaries and bus drivers maintained even in the face of the horror.
The firsthand lessons in citizenship were reflected also in the children's need to do something positive to help. They wrote letters of thanks and admiration to the firefighters along with more artwork, and they devised ways to raise money to contribute to the various relief funds. One class baked cookies and raised $300 for the Red Cross, while another class is selling gently used books for the same purpose. Other classes collected drinks and clothing for the rescue workers. Everyone took action.
Each school held assemblies that were conducted with songs, poems and heartfelt presentations.
Eamonn Flood, who teaches physical education at Saddle Rock, Parkville and John F. Kennedy Elementary Schools, and health at North High School, is also a volunteer at the Vigilant Fire Department. He became the embodiment of courage for the children who know him, and he was presented with art and letter tributes from the children at the board meeting.
On Sept. 11, parents and teachers rode the buses at dismissal time to ensure that each child had someone at home to meet them or stayed after school until each child was picked up. Throughout the schools, the goal was to provide a "calm, predictable, orderly environment."
Because of concerns about air quality, indoor recess was instituted with large fans installed to circulate the air.
On Sept. 13, Dr. Jack Kamins, assistant superintendent for pupil personnel, conducted a seminar for parents to provide guidance on helping children cope with their feelings. The seminar was taped and is currently being shown on public access channel 72.
Dr. Terens reaffirmed to the board members and the public that the schools will continue in the coming weeks and months to provide a safe haven for our children.
One little boy brought $300 to school to contribute to the relief effort. Naturally, his teacher double-checked with his parents regarding the large sum and learned that he had insisted on giving it saying, "I want to give it. I saved my whole life for this."
Secondary school principals, starting with South High's Randolph Ross, reported on each school's response. Mr. Ross said that South High ''went into crisis mode'' on Sept. 11. With information filtering out, the school had to keep both students and faculty calm. Television sets were spread throughout the school, discussion groups were organized, and staff was available to meet student needs. An ongoing crisis team, including ongoing counseling, was set up. Mr. Ross noted that the school's student government was most instrumental in guiding the school's response. ''Our philosophy is to be a sanctuary and a safe haven,'' said Mr. Ross. Students raised funds, a memorial assembly was held, and then a memorial program the next week, which included music and speakers (including Superintendent of Schools William Shine). Mr. Ross also explained that the Lake Success police escorted the school buses out of the traffic-jammed school grounds. And he assured that South High is ''returning to normalcy.''
North High Principal Bernard Kaplan spoke of the two North High graduates who were lost on Sept. 11 --- firefighter Jonathan Ielpi who graduated before Mr. Kaplan's tenure began, and Andrew Stergiopoulos, a football star with whom Mr. Kaplan had ''a strong and close relationship.'' Mr. Kaplan had attended the service for Andrew and called it ''an experience that will stay in my heart.'' Mr. Kaplan said that North High has been ''profoundly touched'' by the events and the graduates they lost. He too called his school a ''sanctuary'' and affirmed that they are ''returning to normalcy.''
Mary Bonner, acting superintendent for secondary education, spoke briefly about South High 1989 graduate Peter Frank who also perished in the terrorist attack. She said that he had been a high school football player and was very active at South High, ''very well-known by the faculty.''
North Middle Principal Barbara Andrews read a beautiful poem written by an eighth grade student. She said the school had been so deeply touched by the loss of the brother-in-law of one of their teachers, and that the faculty had set up a memorial fund for the victim's 3-year-old son. She also reported that North Middle students had raised over $2000 in contributions, and had made ribbons and bows. And she spoke of the beauty of music teacher Dan Tomaselli singing God Bless America each morning. Ms. Andrews stressed that at North Middle, ''everyone played a role and we are doing it for the children ... there's still a story to come.''
At South Middle School, Principal Sal Lipari said that their main concern was ''to maintain an orderly and safe environment ... and to be responsive to the children, their reactions and their questions.'' In the initial days of the aftermath, faculty was especially sensitive to student needs, making referrals to counselors and school psychologists. There was communication with the parents all along. Students were encouraged to help by raising funds, and there are large displays of students' work in the school. As well, several assemblies were held. Mr. Lipari said that South Middle is now ''moving into a sense of a level of normalcy ... students have stability and order.'' And he said that the schools must keep vigilant to ensure the security of all students.