By Jessica Easthope
The new school year is around the corner. For faculty, staff and students at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Academy in Corona, Queens, the odds of reopening and staying open are stacked against them.
“We got hit really, really hard,” said Dr. Cristina Tancredi-Cruz the school’s principal. “We’ve been talking about this and dealing with it. but when you look at the numbers, we got hit really hard.”
Dr. Cruz says Our Lady of Sorrows will open on September 10 using a hybrid model, about half of the students will be in school, the rest will learn online.
“If God forbid we think it’s not working, we’re shutting down and figuring this out because we’re really taking this seriously and the kids’ safety is number one,” said Dr. Cruz.
The Catholic Academy is 99 percent Hispanic. The ethnic group that has suffered more cases and deaths than any other in New York City. In the city’s public schools, 304,880 students will be learning virtually this year, Hispanics make up most of them at 37 percent.
“There was a point where every single day someone was dying and it hit us really hard,” Dr. Cruz said.
The school sits in the heart of Corona, Queens, the one-time epicenter of the pandemic. With a death toll reaching nearly 450 in the area, the virus’ effects on the neighborhood have been catastrophic.
“It has had the effect of an atomic bomb, it’s been horrendous,” said Father Manuel de Jesus Rodriguez, the new pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Church.
In the few short months at his new post, he’s seen the devastation first-hand. More than 100 families across the parish and school lost loved ones to the virus, the job loss is even higher.
“We have a growing number of members of this community who have lost their jobs, we have had a lot of hunger, here in Corona the effects of this virus have been horrendous so we are fighting to help the people,” said Fr. Manuel.
Enrollment is down this year, but Dr. Cruz knows her school community is resilient.
“Many families have left, they have literally left the state of New York,” she explained. “We were on a great path, and COVID kind of knocked us off. But we’ll get back, we’re going to make it. You’ll see, mark my words.”