By CANDY STALLWORTH
On Thursday, November 15, winter storm Avery pummeled the New York/New Jersey area, dropping up to eight inches in some places. With a start just before the rush hour and the worst of the snow falling rapidly just as people were leaving work, the drive home turned into a nightmare for many commuters. Highways and back roads were covered in snow, and vehicles found themselves sliding, spinning, or getting stuck in the snow. Pulled-over cars became a commonplace sight, as was people abandoning their vehicles and attempting to make their way on foot. Good Samaritans pitched in and helped out total strangers, pushing out stuck cars and shoveling, sharing supplies, and doing whatever it took to help themselves and those around them attempt to find their way home.
While ordinary citizens were rising to the occasion, nowhere to be found were the sanders, salters, and plows that typically make their way around throughout the duration of a snowstorm. And, as time went on, the traffic nightmare worsened. With clogged-up roads, snowplows and salters that were readied too late could not even get out onto the roads. Roads became virtual parking lots, and many commuters’ ride home became exponentially longer. Rides that typically take a few minutes became two-and three-hour treks. And those with slightly longer commutes found themselves trapped in their vehicles and not moving for upwards of five hours, some around 9-10 hours. Additionally, the Port Authority Bus Terminal closed at around 5:15 p.m., leaving hundreds of commuters with nowhere to go and in a crowded, frustrated mess.
While this situation was disastrous all around, in some places in northern New Jersey, school children also found themselves unable to get home. In West Orange, transportation was extremely difficult. Route 280 (which bisects the township) and many of the township’s normally busy major roads, including Pleasant Valley Way, Eagle Rock Avenue, and Northfield Avenue quickly became jam-packed and riddled with accidents; as a result, school buses attempting to bring children home were unable to move at all. With time passing and hundreds of children stranded and away from home, some extraordinary things happened:
The West Orange Police Department, alerted to the fact that buses of children were stuck on buses going absolutely nowhere, asked the managers of the Chit Chat Diner on Eagle Rock Avenue to house the children until the roads cleared. Without a thought of whether or not it would be good for business, they allowed many busloads of children to come into the diner, eat dinner, and stay for as many hours as needed until the buses could take them back to the schools to be picked up, or, to stay overnight there. Manager Leo Novakidis stated, “We were glad to help…That’s what you do in a situation like that. The community comes together. These were cold, hungry kids going stir crazy on a bus. Who wouldn’t want to help?”
And that leads to the next extraordinary story of selflessness and caring in the debacle of Thursday’ s snowstorm. With so many West Orange children unable to get home (some, having spent five hours on a school bus in stopped traffic), several schools opened their doors for the students to stay overnight. Eight schools housed some children, with Liberty Middle School housing approximately 300 children. In each of these buildings, some teachers, staff members, and administrators committed to spending all night at their work place, making sure their students were safe.
At Liberty, approximately 20 teachers, along with Principal Bob Klemt, took care of the children, including becoming cafeteria chefs to feeding them dinner and breakfast, showing movies in the auditorium, playing games with them in the gym, and setting up gym mats so children could sleep. Social media posts showed teachers keeping everyone’s spirits up, making the atmosphere more like a giant sleepover than a trapped-in situation. Principal Klempt posted regular Twitter updates to keep everyone informed. One Twitter post from @Liberty_WO at about 8:30 pm stated, “UPDATE…What a nor’easter…….students at Liberty are fine, transitioned back to the auditorium for the movie “Frozen”, timely movie choice, staff serving water….some students looking to grab some zzzzzzzzzz….@woschools. Another from early morning showed smiling teachers (who must have been beyond exhausted by this point, but smiling anyway) and students in the cafeteria and said, “5:30 am UPDATE…Rise & Shine…Liberty Staff serving up FRENCH TOAST this morning…@woschools.” Parents picked up their children whenever they could (many of them having endured horrendous, multi-hour commutes home), and police dropped off some at their homes the next morning.
And that is what being an educator is all about. “A+”’s all around for these amazing teachers, administrators, and other school personnel who went above and beyond to make sure their students were safe and secure.
Candy Stallworth, an Empire State News staff writer, whipped her way through a doctoral education at the finest of American higher ed institutions, noting how unoriginal, inept, and annoying many of the schools’ professors were in their robotic attempts to maintain a politically correct narrative. BTW: she hates words like “narrative”, “optics”, and “gaffe.” Other than that, her turn-offs include non-masculine men, women who hate men, men who hate men, phonies, disloyal people, and overflowing garbage cans. She likes New England clam chowder better than Manhattan clam chowder, but prefers Manhattan to New England.
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