Students at Ship Bottom’s Long Beach Island Grade School haven’t had a school of their own for seven months, but on Tuesday they will gain access to one of the most notable buildings in the country.

Next week, six students from grades three to six will help first lady Michelle Obama cultivate the summer harvest at the White House, district Superintendent Karen McKeon said.

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“What’s great is that it’s right up our alley because we have a school garden that all of the teachers, as well as my nurse, maintain with the students,” she said.

That garden was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in October, along with the LBI Grade School. Since then, the school’s 140 students and 17 staff members have moved into the nearby Ethel A. Jacobsen Elementary School in Surf City, nearly doubling the number of pupils at the K-2 school.

“It’s been very difficult,” McKeon said. “But everyone’s been very accommodating and willing to adjust their school year for the needs of the students.”

McKeon said she was notified Friday that LBI was chosen to send five students and two adult chaperones to the White House next week, one of two Sandy-impacted schools chosen for the honor. Later, she was given permission to send a sixth student.

Because of the late notice, she said, she chose the students’ names out of a hat.

“They’re going to be able to work in the garden and then work alongside the chef” to cook a meal, McKeon said. “So it’s really wonderful.”

The sudden honor came at the end of seven hard months for both the school and its pupils.

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, 125 of the LBI students were displaced to the mainland and other states.

Most have returned, McKeon said. Although that’s put added pressure on the Surf City school — which holds about 110 students — she said the district was glad to see them return.

McKeon said repairing the LBI school will cost more than $1.8 million, according to initial estimates. All of the mechanical systems — from electricity to HVAC — were destroyed. Meanwhile, the gym floor needs to be replaced and most of the classrooms require substantial renovation.

A combination of insurance and funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will likely cover the cost, she said, but it’s been a slow process.

“There’s a chance we could get back to where we need to be in maybe March or April of next year, but that’s questionable right now,” she said.

In the meantime, McKeon said, the school qualified for modular classroom units for the LBI students, but that, too, has been a difficult process. That possible solution was delayed, in part, due to the fact that the parcel the units would be placed on is technically located in Ship Bottom, although adjacent to the Surf City school.

But, if all goes to plan, the units could be in place by September and the start of the 2013-14 school year.

In the meantime, she and the students are looking forward to their trip to Washington. And their own garden, which was rebuilt after Sandy, has won an award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Our staff, our students and our parents have been extremely resilient and very patient,” she said.

Contact Wallace McKelvey:


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Been working with the Press for about 27 years.

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