Friday, November 23, 2012

Union Beach (part 2)

If you haven't already- read part 1.

Tuesday morning we fueled the kids up with donuts, bagels and coffee and headed down to the beach in our best work clothes.

The reaction of the kids as we drove through the destruction was indescribable.  Let's just say it's a good thing I didn't bring the curse jar ;)  They had seen tons of pictures and videos but it didn't come close to doing it justice.  Being there and seeing it in person made it real (for me too).  And their reactions were not that it was was that it was so sad.  16 and 17 year old boys that spend their days doing construction were staring out the windows saying how sad it was.

When we got there we split into two groups.  One group stayed at the donation and food center set up at the firehouse and the other group went out into the field to get dirty.  (sidenote: my school is a vocational school so many of the kids spend a good part of their day doing construction/carpentry type work meaning that they are used to and very good at working with their hands)

The volunteer efforts there were being run by a group of people that had traveled from all over the country (some from california!) and have been staying in tents for the past two weeks which was unbelievable.  They were all so friendly and grateful for the help.

ABC news was there the day before us and aired this:

GROUP 1 (at firehouse)
We started out with a short orientation tour from the woman that seemed to be overseeing the site. She was amazing.  They had the area set up into different parts, everything was so organized and running so smoothly.  Myself and one other teacher stayed with the kids here.

One group of about 5 kids stayed up front sorting coats that had been donated.  They separated the jackets into men's and women's piles, folded them, and laid them out into piles.  As people came to look they also talked with them and helped them to find what they were looking for.  At one point I walked over and a couple of my native spanish speaking students were helping out a family all in spanish.

This picture below shows the area where people in need came to take food and home items.
To the right there was an area that had clothing.

Three other girls were sweeping the entire area to make sure everything was nice and clean.

Two girls were in a food tent with another woman that was volunteering and together they made 100 bagged lunches to distribute.  These girls were fantastic because when I told them that we were going to go eat lunch they told me that they needed some more time because they needed to finish.

Another four students were chopping potatoes to be used to make home fries.  I thought this was amazing because when I found them, there was a man from the group in charge helping them.  He was on the other side of the table working with them and giving them chopping lessons.  I was thrilled to find this and catch it on video.  This guy was great because he was talking and joking with the kids the whole time.

What was perhaps my favorite part though was that no one was just standing around.  When they finished up with a particular job they didn't stand around, they talked with the woman in charge and found something else to do.  When cars pulled up with donations, the kids in the area all went over to help carry bags.  When cars kept trying to park in the donation drop off zone, they made a sign to clear things up.  

When I told them we needed to go meet up with the other half of the group for lunch, they told me they didn't want to leave.

GROUP 2 (work site)

I stayed with the first group, so admittedly I don't know quite the details of what happened with the second group.  The three other teachers and the rest of the kids went with some of the guys that were helping clean to a couple different sites.  Before getting off the bus the guy in charge gave them clear directions on what to do and what not to do.  He told them that he was their foreman and they were to listen to him on what to do.  These kids couldn't wait to get off the bus and get their hands on stuff.

I think that this group especially got a very powerful lesson (even though they may not realize it just yet).  They truly got the idea of how big a job it is going to be to restore these towns.  It isn't just a matter of putting up a new house, there is first the huge task of cleaning out the unbelievable amount of debris that is everywhere.  And they got to be a part of that.

The kids were not doing quite as dangerous work as they are in the video, but these are a couple of the guys that they worked with.

Below are a couple of the sites they worked at.

Around the middle of the day we all came back together for lunch.  Next to one of the worksites was a small park right on the water.  It turns out that even 16 and 17 year old boys will bicker over who gets to go on the swings.

After lunch we all took a walk around the town.  The original plan had been to split into smaller groups for this, but we all ended up together.  The kids were just so great.  They were probably tired from working all morning so maybe that helped, but I also think they were in awe.  It's one thing to see pictures, but being there was surreal.

Between everyone that was there we have hundreds of pictures, so here's just a few to get an idea of what it looks like:

As we walked through the street we also encountered homeowners.  One man that we came across was standing where his home used to be.  This was his basement:

He started talking about the storm from his point of view.  All 38 kids gathered around him and were dead silent listening to him talk (they've certainly never been that quiet for me!).  I have that on video too and even after he stopped talking they stayed quiet.  He talked about where some of his belongings ended up and told them about the man cave he used to have in his basement.  This was another thing that we couldn't have planned better if we tried.

Something else that was really cool was that the film student I have recorded the entire day.  He said that he plans to use all his footage to create a documentary later in the year in class.  He interviewed the teachers and all the kids on the bus on the way there.  When we got there he interviewed the volunteers from San Francisco, the other local volunteers and captured the whole operation in both photos and videos.  He recorded the town and the wreckage and the kids working.  He interviewed homeowners about their experiences.  I think he said he got a good three hours worth of footage, in addition to pictures he took.  I really can't wait to see what he puts together.

Overall, I was so very impressed by how appropriately the kids behaved.  They truly rose to the occasion. When they were working, every single one of them was completely engaged and giving it their all. When they were not working (which is usually where things take a bad turn) they were completely engaged in everything around them.  They just wanted to see every single thing they could.  Every kid there learned that even though they are just kids, they can do something to help.

That evening, my school hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for people impacted by the storm and for the school community.  I stayed to help at the dinner and it was cute to see that every kid that came that had gone on the trip just looked like they were dead.  I was by the door and they would walk in and just give me a look that said they were beat.  As I was leaving one of my freshman girls came up, gave me a hug and sincerely thanked me for letting her come.  She said it really meant a lot to her to be able to see everything and be able to help.  <3


  1. I hope that you're doing OK in the aftermath of Sandy. I'm from Montclair and have friends that are just now coming up for air. I love your blog and my kids love artsy, hands-on things for both maht and science! I'm a 6th grade Math & Science teacher in a charter school in suburban Boston. We use Everydaymath and KnowAtom for science. We just finished our first trimester. ISN looks a little daunting to start in the middle of the year, but I think that I can introduce foldables with success, one concept at a time. What do you think?

  2. Hi,

    I nominated your blog for the Liebster Award. Check out my blog for the info. I'm your newest follower! :)

  3. I just stumbled across your blog because of the 31-derful activity, and I noticed you had a Hurricane Sandy tag on the side. Imagine my surprise to find out it was about my town! I am a teacher that lives in Union Beach, and I must say this post brought back a lot of feelings. Thank you (belated as it may be) for helping our small town and showing your students the true meaning of humanity.


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