By Jessica Easthope
The hallways of St. Francis Preparatory High School in Fresh Meadows, Queens were packed Sept. 14 for the first day of school, but to the students themselves, they were empty.
Less than half of the 2,450 students were at the school, which opened on a hybrid model.
Each student was affected by the pandemic in a different way.
“My mom was up all night on facetime with my dad, he’d stop breathing and the nurses wouldn’t come in so my mom would have to call,” said Giana, 18 and Eva Giacalone, 14, sisters who attend St. Francis Prep.
School was the last thing on their minds when their dad was hospitalized with COVID-19 and fighting for his life.
“I was afraid I wasn’t ever going to see my dad ever again,” Giana said as her eyes welled up with tears.
The virus was also a financial threat to their family. Their dad’s barber shop was closed, and their parents didn’t think they could afford to send the girls back to Prep.
“When the parents were emailing me and writing me and telling me some very sad stories, that’s when we said we need to step up to the plate,” said Brother Leonard Conway, president of the school.
That’s when the TerrierSTAR Fund was formed. Alumni donations totaling $775,000 went toward keeping Prep students in school. Now Giana and Eva are back where they belong.
“The principal called and he told her that we didn’t have to worry about it. I truly can’t picture me and my sister being anywhere else, my mom couldn’t believe they were willing to help us,” the sisters said.
Last school year the TerrierSTAR Fund helped 275 families. This year it will help cover tuition costs for 425 families.
For Principal Patrick McLaughlin, keeping kids in school is personal.
“My parents had difficulty paying tuition and I was lucky enough to have a friend of ours step up and do that for me at that time,” McLaughlin said.
The school community instantly rallied around its students. One of them went as far as to match every single dollar donated, television personality Julie Chen, Class of 1987.
Though the students come and go, the community they gain at Prep is forever.