NORTH HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – It was back to school Friday in the Westbury district, with a different experience for the ninth graders.
Instead of heading to high school, they were off to a college campus.
On the campus of Nassau Community College, the newest students were – ninth graders. As CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported, all 370 freshmen from Westbury High School moved into a vacant college building, because the high school was bursting at the seams.
“We had approximately, coming in September now, 1,700 students at the high school with a capacity of about 1,190,” Superintendent Eudes Budhai said.
He said overcrowding reached the breaking point, with 450 unaccompanied immigrants in two years. Every space, even the lunch room, was converted into class space.
“We really peaked and it was becoming an unsafe environment for our children,” Budhai said.
The college is three and a half miles away from the high school, or a 10 minute drive.
State emergency approval to lease space outside its borders came just days ago. It’s been all hands on deck to make the college feel like a high school. School bells were wired, rooms subdivided and a cafeteria installed.
“There were no sinks, no nothing. We did that in the last four days,” said Budhai.
Plus, some college perks took the sting out of back-to-school.
“It’s very nice in here – it has a lot of air conditioning!” one student said.
“It’s more space. You don’t have to run into anybody,” another added. “It’s safer.”
Kids will still get buses to and from home and shuttles back to the high school for sports and after school clubs. For gym, they’ll head over to the Nassau’s Mitchel Field.
“We took lemons and made lemonade,” said Assistant Principal Dr. Paul Pelech.
The ninth grade academy environment is an added benefit, he said.
“This is one place where there are more eyes on less students. Students won’t fall through the cracks,” said Pelech.
The cost of moving all the ninth graders out of the crowded high school was $1 million to tax payers, and it’s only a one-year fix. The district must find a permanent solution.
“We want our children home. We want our children back in Westbury,” Budhai said.
But keeping the ninth grade separate might become the new normal. The Westbury school district student population has grown 30 percent in the last 10 years.