Accessibility links

Breaking News

Young People in Puerto Rico Await a Return to School

Girls play a board game at the Ramon Marin Sola Elementary School, which opened its doors as a daytime community center after the passing of Hurricane Maria in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, Oct. 13, 2017.
Girls play a board game at the Ramon Marin Sola Elementary School, which opened its doors as a daytime community center after the passing of Hurricane Maria in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, Oct. 13, 2017.
Young People in Puerto Rico Await a Return to School
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:07:00 0:00

15-year-old Alanys Arroyo and her little brothers have been at a school in western Puerto Rico for weeks, but they are not in class.

The Associated Press says they have been living in the school, which is now being used as a shelter. Hurricane Maria flooded their family's home and destroyed most of their belongings.

Her family is far from their friends after being moved from another shelter.

Arroyo was an honor student in the 10th grade when the hurricane hit on September 20. She has been trying to keep up with her studies by reading about the history of the United States and Puerto Rico but said it is hard to pay attention. "The days are long," she said, "I miss studying."

Like Arroyo, most of Puerto Rico's young people are becoming frustrated about missing school.

Hurricane Maria caused widespread flooding and has resulted in at least 48 deaths. Less than 20% of the people have electricity, and 35% are still without drinking water. The storm also destroyed the electrical power system for the island affecting all of the schools.

Puerto Rico has 1,113 public schools with 345,000 students.

About 167 schools have served as community centers where children and older people spend part of each day and receive meals. The education department announced Wednesday that it was raising the number of these schools to 190.

An additional 99 schools are being used as shelters for about 5,000 people. People are sleeping in classrooms like the Arroyo family.

Officials are now working on a plan to reopen the schools. About 70 schools are too damaged to reopen. Some have been hit by landslides. Many schools now have no regular water service. Few, if any, have power.

Teachers were expected to return to their schools Monday to prepare for the reopening of classes. But Puerto Rico's Education Secretary Julia Keleher now agrees that was too soon and only some schools will open. The start date for the whole system has been pushed to October 30 or later.

Universities and trade schools also are closed or on limited schedules. This has forced some young people to wait until they reopen or move to the U.S. mainland to continue their studies.

Nineteen-year-old Luis Sierra was studying to be a chef. Now, instead, he is at a school that is serving as a shelter in the town of Toa Baja. His school says it will not reopen until August. "I've lost this year," he said.

Many students and young people have left for the mainland U.S., although the exact number is not known. Students have had only about six weeks of class since the academic year started August 14 because of damaging storms.

Schools, political leaders offer help

Law schools including Florida A&M and the University of Connecticut have agreed to accept students from Puerto Rico. Miami-Dade County Public Schools has offered to adapt the learning materials and change bus routes to help the incoming children.

Florida Governor Rick Scott has said displaced teachers will not have to pay for documents to work in his state. He ordered that license fees for certain professionals, such as real estate agents and barbers, be suspended for people fleeing the storm.

Puerto Rico’s education secretary Keleher would like to get children back to class as soon as possible. But there are competing needs, she said. Kids need their education and parents need them in school so they can go back to work. But schools need repair and cleaning and about 10 percent are still being used as shelters.

"You ask yourself: Is it my rush to get that family out? Because if that family is the family of the child that I am educating, who am I serving here by getting them out faster?" Keleher said in interview with The Associated Press. "We have the goal but it's not the goal at the cost of human beings who are impacted along the way."

One district has already pushed the end of the school year from May 31 to July 15 and may have to extend it further and make the school day longer.

When they do go back to school, many kids will be dealing with the emotions of losing everything to the floods. Some teachers and staff are dealing with the same issues, said Damarys Collazo. She is the principal of the Eleanor Roosevelt School in the Hato Rey area of San Juan.

She says she will try to act like life is normal but realizes that may not be possible for everyone. The reality, she says, is that we are facing a crisis like they have never experienced.

I'm Alice Bryant. And I'm Jonathan Evans.

This story uses content from two reports by the Associated Press. Alice Bryant adapted the material for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.


Words in This Story

honor student – n. a student whose work has earned grades above a specific average during a semester or school year

frustrated – adj. very angry, discouraged, or upset because of being unable to do or complete something

landslide – n. a large mass of rocks and earth that suddenly and quickly moves down the side of a mountain or hill

schedule – n. a plan of things that will be done and the times when they will be done

license – n. an official document, card, etc., that gives you permission to do, use, or have something

real estate – n. the business of selling land and buildings

barber – n. a person whose job is to cut men's hair

impact – v. to have a strong and often bad effect on something or someone

district – n. an area established by a government for official government business