Monster storm Sandy creates challenges for boarding schools in Northeast

By Amy Makechnie

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, Oct. 29 2012 5:00 p.m. MDT

Longtime Cape May resident John Cooke gets a close look at rough surf pounding the beach Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in Cape May, N.J., as high tide and Hurricane Sandy begin to arrive.

Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

ANDOVER, N.H. — As Hurricane Sandy rips its way up the East Coast, Proctor Academy, a small-town boarding school in Andover, N.H., faces particular challenges as it braces for the storm.

Responsible for roughly 345 students — 270 boarding students and 75 day students — Proctor Academy, like many New England boarding schools, can't just close its doors like a typical business, or send kids home like public schools. Regardless of a storm's path, the school must be mindful of boarding students from 31 states and 10 foreign countries. For these students, school is home.

The relatively small number of students and faculty who do live off-campus were told to go home Monday. They were released early from classes and sports as New Hampshire Governor John Lynch declared a state of emergency and encouraged all automobiles to be off the state's roads by 3:00 p.m.

Proctor Academy administrators began contingency planning on Friday, meeting with the school's housekeeping, maintenance and kitchen staffs to ensure the safety of students and employees, as well as to make sure emergency communication systems were operational.

Director of Communications for Proctor Academy Chuck Will was one of 220 participants in a series of conference calls hosted by the National Weather Service throughout the past 24 hours. "The safety of all members of the community — students, faculty and staff — is paramount," Will said.

The school's response is guided by the Governor's declaration. "We have secured potential 'projectiles' (ie trash receptacles and outdoor furniture) and we have lowered the level of the campus pond in anticipation of heavy rain to reduce the risk of flooding."

Hurricane Sandy is expected to hit New Jersey Monday evening. A fast-moving band of higher wind and rain will enter southern New Hampshire around 3:00 p.m., reaching Andover around 4:00 p.m. Some reports state winds of up to 70 mph and 1-4 inches of rain and coastal flooding.

While the impact of the storm in New Hampshire area is comparatively low, many students have families and extended family in higher-impact areas. While students might be relatively safe in Andover, they may also be processing emotion due to concern for the safety of family members in states where the effects of Sandy are more significant. Faculty and staff — especially dorm parents — need to be on alert throughout the evening, ready to support students.

Becky Walsh — a mother, administrative assistant, and dorm parent of 12 teenage boys from around the country — says she hasn't had a lot of calls from worried parents yet, but credits the excellent communication from Proctor Academy's administration. "I know we have a building we can go to if we need power, heat, and food."

The school has shared its contingency plans with parents through electronic communication. But, Walsh is also a parent of a child at another boarding school in New Hampshire. "I am getting more and more worried," Walsh said. "Although I'm sure it's an irrational worry, even though I know everything is okay … I want to know what their plans are in case of a power outage, etc."

Proctor Academy has about 20 small dorms, mostly converted homes, supervised by one or two sets of dorm parents that accommodate an average of 11 boarding students. John Ferris, chief financial and operating manager at Proctor, sent a campus-wide email to students, staff and dorm parents asking that all toys, bicycles, bird feeders, potted plants, sports equipment, outdoor furniture, Halloween decorations, welcome banners, and anything else that could get airborne, be brought inside.

For this particular storm, the school's administration, staff department heads and Mike Henriques met and reviewed a checklist of items regarding storm preparedness, and attended the Emergency Operating Management meeting held in the Andover Town Hall to sync emergency preparedness effort town-wide.

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