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Rockaway Math Teacher Honored for Helping Students Through Hurricane Sandy

By Katie Honan | December 3, 2014 11:46am
 Kerri Naples, 30, is being recognized for excellence in and out of the classroom. 
Kerri Naples, 30, is being recognized for excellence in and out of the classroom. 
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

ROCKAWAY BEACH — For Kerri Naples, solving problems is second nature.

At The Scholars’ Academy in Rockaway Beach, where she’s worked for nine years, Naples helps her students make sense of complicated trigonometry and algebra equations.

And when Hurricane Sandy wrecked the school in 2012, she became a “galvanizing force” among her colleagues, arranging rides for those displaced by the storm and helping her students learn in less-than-ideal situations.

Her commitment has inspired former students to pursue math after high school, and on Wednesday night she’ll be honored by the Fund for the City of New York along with six other teachers for excellence in teaching math and science.

A former student will introduce her at the awards ceremony at Cooper Union and she’ll be celebrated by students and colleagues, who are taking a bus to the event.

Naples, 30, will be given $5,000 and the school’s math program will get $2,500 as winners of The Sloan Award, which they’ll use for supplies.

“You don’t know what you are missing if you don’t have a teacher like Kerri Naples,” her principal, Brian O'Connell, said.

Naples spent her whole career at Scholars’ Academy, and travels every day to the school from her home in Hazlet, N.J. — a trip that often takes two hours in the morning.

“I really enjoy it here,” she said, brushing off the long commute. 

She even coaches the girl’s varsity volleyball team, which won the city championships in 2010 and has made the semi-finals every year since.

Her third-floor classroom is decorated with math words and problems, but she’s proven she can teach students under any condition.

After Hurricane Sandy flooded their building, the school relocated to a high school in East New York for three months, which added an extra hour to Naples' commute.

She carpooled with displaced co-workers, picking up colleagues across New Jersey and Brooklyn, and looking after her students, many of whom were also displaced from their homes.

“We did what we could,” she said. “The high school was on one floor at the time, and I would teach on the floor — no chairs, no desks.”

Her students would travel from room to room, working out problems where they could find free space.

“It is what it is. You try and get what you can out of it," she said. "It was really a time that we all pulled together.”

Of the 30 students who took the January state Regents exam, 28 passed, despite dealing with the impact of Sandy and still working out of makeshift classrooms.

O’Connell cited Naples' patience and understanding for helping her students succeed. 

“I try and show them that they can do it,” she said. “It’s just showing them — even though it’s the hardest of the three math sequences — I break it down for them and show them that it’s not as hard as it looks.”