A little over four months removed from the tragic events of Sept. 11 the healing process, a long and trying one, continues. Throughout the New York metropolitan area, including Long Island, there are stories woven of sorrow and hope and heroism, stories of citizens pulling together in a time of great need.
In Long Island high schools, some students have had to deal with the losses of family members and friends while many others have had to go on with their academic careers under a shroud of sadness and anger hanging over not only themselves but parents and teachers as well.
The Sewanhaka Central High School District community was touched in a personal way by the attack on the World Trade Center as some students lost family members, a few graduates perished and all citizens were awakened to the fact that their reality had changed. It is a feeling that will persist in the waking months of a new summer when the Class of 2002 graduates cross the threshold into the next step in their lives. In each of the five Sewanhaka High School graduation ceremonies this June, there will undoubtedly be names to remember of those forever linked to Sept. 11.
But, while many stories that have surfaced since that day have detailed loss and tragedy, others have told the tales of hope and generosity. The Sewanhaka Central High School District has played a part in both.
In the days following Sept. 11, at the Sewanhaka Central High School, a helpless feeling was replaced by one of empowerment as students in each of the five high schools in the district - Elmont Memorial, Sewanhaka, Floral Park Memorial, New Hyde Park Memorial, and H. Frank Carey - began fund-raising efforts designed to help the rescue workers and their families.
Earlier this week, the fruits of the generous efforts selflessly exhibited by the students and faculty members were translated into money that will go toward various funds, sponsored by the Daily News.
Superintendent of Schools for the Sewanhaka Central High School District Dr. George Goldstein as well as a faculty member and students instrumental in the fund-raising efforts from each of the five schools presented checks totaling $32,000, the amount of money the schools pooled together, to Daily News President and Chief Operating Officer Les Goodstein, who came to Elmont Memorial to express his thanks for what the students had achieved.
"When I heard about what the district did, I was very thankful and emotional," Mr. Goodstein told the students. "No other school district in the metropolitan area did what you did."
Out of the $32,000 raised by the schools, $10,000 is going to the New York City Fire Department's Widows and Children's Fund; $12,000 is going to the New York City Police Department Widows and Children's Fund and $10,000 is going to the Emergency Medical Services Command Memorial Foundation. In addition, the district sent $18,000 worth of supplies to Ground Zero.
With the Sewanhaka Central High School District community touched by the tragedy, the student body and faculty found itself in a rather unique position. It wasn't solely because of the schools' proximity to the city as the schools are situated near the Queens border. It is because Sewanhaka is unique in that it is a district comprised of five different communities that combined their efforts.
The Sewanhaka District combined with the efforts of the Daily News showed what could be accomplished even in times of adversity. "We came together as five schools and that gives me great pride," said Dr. Goldstein.
"The unity in our school was amazing. It touched me," said Sewanhaka High School student Zara Northover. "I'm so proud to be a part of Sewanhaka High School and the Sewanhaka District. Everybody worked so hard. It touched so many different ways because people were hurt."
Whether it was a pasta dinner at Elmont Memorial, a walk-a-thon and volleyball marathon at Sewanhaka, selling Carey Cares ribbons and bake sales, the Key Club leading the way at New Hyde Park Memorial High School and the efforts of the Key Club and student government at Floral Park Memorial High School, the students and faculty members of the five high schools, with the backing of central administration, turned the feeling of helplessness into the spirit of compassion and generosity.
"Everyone that contributed knew that they were part of something much greater than if they were just sitting home doing nothing," said H. Frank Carey student Christin Hordern.
"I could see the spirits lift as soon as they had something to do," said H. Frank Carey faculty member Joanne Bergbom.
As many Americans searched for answers in the days following Sept. 11, the students and staff of the Sewanhaka District tried their best to work through their pain, displaying the spirit that has enabled Americans to persevere. "It wasn't about the money for me or any of my friends who got involved. We really felt kind of helpless. We don't live close enough that we can actually go there and help, but we lived close enough to be affected by it so it really helped us to feel like we were doing something," said New Hyde Park Memorial High School student Kaitlyn Kerrane.
In their cause to help lessen the pain for those affected by the attack on the World Trade Center, district students found their own towers of strength in each other. "I remember people completely decked out in red, white and blue on patriotic day once a week. Knowing that everyone was feeling the same way I was and it wasn't just me that was upset and bothered but it was a comfort," said Floral Park Memorial High School student Theresa Serra.
"It's something we can all be proud of. By helping somebody else, you help yourself," said Floral Park faculty member Etta Schneiderman.
Help also came from unlikely places such as Rosedale Middle School in California. Students there sent each of the five Sewanhaka District high schools a banner expressing their support. Also, there are 18 teddy bears on the way, sent from the children affected by the Oklahoma City bombing to be distributed to Sewanhaka district students directly affected by Sept. 11.
While time continues to gnaw at the tragedy of Sept. 11, the heroic actions of the rescue workers and the generous thoughts of those from the Sewanhaka Central High School District will not be forgotten.