Principal Justine Lucas happens to oversee one of the Big Apple’s largest public schools but PS143Q is also at the epicenter of New York’s coronavirus outbreak in Corona, Queens — making an already tough job that much more challenging.
“A lot of our students have very, very sick families and some of our students’ families have passed away and so we’re trying to wrap around everybody with as much support as we can,” Lucas, 36, told The Post.
“It was the scariest experience because every single day I was getting, you know, messages from staff that they were not feeling well, they have fevers and so we were really nervous.”
Lucas immediately got to work to make sure her staff, and her students, felt like they could lean on her during this time.
Every Friday, she hosts a virtual mental health check in with her teachers and regularly hosts meditations and Yoga sessions with her staff, parents and students. She also does “coffee with the principal” every Tuesday so parents can ask questions and have an opportunity to communicate with her.
“The biggest thing that we try to do is distract and keep saturating our community with positivity and having those virtual connections,” Lucas said.
She encourages her students to record themselves saying affirmations like “I am safe, I am loved, I am going to be okay.”
“What we’re trying to do is rehabilitate their spirit,” Lucas, who lives in Freeport, Long Island, explained.
“This devastation has really taken the wind out of our sails and my whole guiding sentiment, whether we’re a traditional school or not, is to have a healthy, empowering environment for my teachers, you know, and to ignite their passion and care for them above all,” Lucas went on.
“That’s how I believe we are best for our children because doing that in turn motivates us all to go the extra mile for our students and families and they know that I’ll do anything for them.”
The second week into remote learning, Lucas set up a weeklong, virtual pep rally to keep the positivity flowing, despite the destruction happening outside of everyone’s windows.
“Everyday was a theme. Monday was love, Tuesday was gratitude, Wednesday was aspire, Thursday was pride and Friday was hope,” Lucas said.
“We just flooded our entire community with messages of love and tried to kind of be each other’s biggest fans… a lot of the parents had said that because of those engaging activities, they were able to then concentrate on the rigor of you know, Google Classroom, so it kind of made them feel confident.”
Lucas said she might be “sad behind the scenes” but she strives to be the “calm amidst a lot of chaos” so the entire school community can feel at ease and focus on learning.
“If you want to have a good school, you have to be a good principal. If you want to have a good classroom, you have to be a good teacher,” Lucas said.
“People always laugh like ‘oh you, you tell your staff you love them’ and, like, I do love them. When I say I love them, I mean it. I love them and I can’t do any of this without them.”
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