Class Act with Chris Wragge: Cresskill Middle and High School bounces back after COVID shutdown, Ida flooding
CRESSKILL, N.J. - Today's Class Act with Chris Wragge is celebrating the students at Cresskill Middle and High School in Cresskill, New Jersey.
Cresskill is home to about 10,000 residents, and the school is home of the cougars.
Team colors are black and gold, but maybe black and blue would be more appropriate considering what these kids have been through -- COVID, Ida and the loss of almost three years of their middle and high school experience.
It's one of the all-time great comeback stories.
"So incredible the transformation from the before to the after. You must be thrilled. I know the kids are," CBS2's Chris Wragge said.
"Thrilled. Relieved. Whatever words we want to use," Principal John Massaro said.
"Steadfast" and "resilient" also apply. During COVID, all schools, all grades suffered lock doors, empty buildings and remote learning. Cresskill, along with the rest of the nation, shut down in March 2020 due to COVID.
Cresskill was ready to welcome back the high school and middle school students for the start of the school year almost 18 months later, until Hurricane Ida. August 26, 2021 - one week before the start of school - Cresskill High and Middle School was underwater. The entire building submerged. Students were left with no place to go.
"When you think back to those days, when you came in and you saw the damage after Ida, just in your fear alone, what was going through your head?" Wragge asked.
"The deep breath I just took now, that's how I felt when I was seeing all this. It was literally the night before our first day of staff before Labor Day Weekend, school was supposed to start the next week. We were excited to get back to the building for a normal year, and it was just a deep breath of 'What do we do now?'" Massaro said.
They rebuilt with a hard fought $21 million referendum for repairs. The work began immediately and, in September 2022, almost two and a half years of COVID and Ida, gave way to a new beginning at Cresskill.
"It's very exciting, because everyone who's been involved with this school and the recovery deserves this celebration. Celebration is a key part of life and hard work, and everyone here deserves it," Massaro said.
And that's why Wragge went to Cresskill, to highlight all of the work that's been done by the Cresskill community. From the parents, to the students, to the administrators - everyone worked tirelessly to make sure the students didn't have to suffer. The pictures of the devastation will always remain, but the future is bright and beautiful. The school is now immaculate.
"I greatly appreciate your approach, and I think that's an important decision people have to make in life. Celebrate the wins and those moments that deserve celebration," Massaro said. "We had to keep each other up and not burn out, and we had to support each other. So thank you, because I think your program adds to that."
In the end, the kids are now the real winners. They've persevered, and now prosper.
"I feel like this year, with the whole coming back to the very new building for the very first time, was really exciting. Getting to see everything for the very first time, it feels like high school is finally hitting me," student Donna Alvarez said.
"I mean, it's so exciting, because now everything's been back. So it's like this year has been like packed with events, like sports being back. So it's just adding to the excitement of the year," Abigail Green said.
"We had a whole year, virtual, more than everybody else, and coming back to the school was so refreshing," student Rachel Evazians said.
"Mr. Massaro was giving us updates on the school every week. He was really trying his best to get us back, and you could see how emotional he was when the school flooded. So it meant a lot to us that they cared so much," student Angelina Doto said.
We must never lose sight of what families with high school and middle school kids have been through the last three years. As principal, Massaro says celebrate the wins. Right now, Cresskill is making up for lost time.
"Just knowing all the small details that it took from so many people day in and day out in, night in the night out, to get us to this point. It's just such a source of pride," Massaro said.
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