When a bolt of lightning hit the roof of Prospect Elementary in Hempstead last month, the three-story brick building caught fire, damaging classrooms and everything inside them that teachers and teaching assistants had collected for many years.
The fire, smoke and water damage destroyed thousands of dollars worth of supplies that teachers and teaching assistants had purchased out of their own pockets — games, artwork, books, baskets, colored paper and learning centers.
“They lost a lot of materials. They were heartbroken,” said Anita Reynolds, president of the Hempstead Teaching Assistants Association.
They also lost many irreplaceable personal items. “We had some teachers crying,” said Hempstead Classroom Teachers Association President Nicole Brown. “They lost all the notes from students they’d saved over the years.”
Nothing was salvageable.
But Brown knew where to turn for help. “Who would you call first when your members are in trouble?” Brown asked. “You call NYSUT.”
She called the statewide union last week and community relations liaison Paul Webster immediately shipped out seven cases of school supply kits that will be shared with the 25 Hempstead teachers to help them kick-start this interrupted school life. Each kit contains markers, colored pencils, tissues, a ruler, glue, scissors, erasers, a pencil sharpener, crayons, lined paper, glue sticks, folders, a classic book, and a highlighter.
NYSUT also sent a case of spiral notebooks, backpacks, posters, rulers and pencils.
Anita Reynolds, president of the Hempstead Teaching Assistants Association and Nicole Brown, president of the Hempstead Classroom Teachers Association.
“What’s a better way of demonstrating union value than if you can do something for someone?” asked Brown, who attended NYSUT’s New Local Presidents Conference this past summer.
NYSUT President Andrew Pallotta said he always tells new local presidents: “Don’t be shy. Ask for help. See what we have.”
NYSUT has also agreed to approve a donation to the HCTA and HTAA through the statewise union's Disaster Relief Fund that helps members hit by floods, fires, hurricanes and other disasters.
“This is what we do,” said NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer Philippe Abraham, who oversees the fund. “Because of our work in the field, more members – from rank-and-file to presidents – realize this is the right approach.”
The local unions are also responding. Brown said the local HCTA is voting to provide the teachers with gift cards to Staples for office products. Reynolds said the HTAA plans to provide money to the educators to replenish supplies.
Some teaching assistants from other schools have been collecting materials and helping the Prospect School TAs, said Reynolds.
The pre-K and kindergarten students who studied at Prospect School will be attending school at a former Catholic school that had closed. Desks and tables are still arriving, Brown said. Once school begins there, the Prospect Elementary teachers and teaching assistants – who are now temporarily assigned elsewhere in the district while waiting for their own classes to begin – can use the kits to set up classrooms.
The Prospect School is being rebuilt, and is scheduled to reopen sometime next year.