Education Week - February 14, 2018 - 17
For Students Displaced by
Storm, the 'Needs Are Great'
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1
have a large Hispanic population, and the
evacuees enrolling in the district are staying in temporary housing at nearby hotels.
This creates an added layer of uncertainty
for the district as it weighs accommodating
the needs of families and students who may
not be around in a few months.
An additional challenge for Richard
and others in his position is determining
the placement of students who arrive on
the mainland without education records.
Nearly 75 percent of the evacuees who are
enrolled in West Springfield schools are in
special education programs because they
had an individualized education program,
or IEP, or because their parents told district
officials that their children had been in special education programs in Puerto Rico.
Photograph by Erin Irwin/Education Week
Florida's public schools have
taken in more student evacuees
from Puerto Rico and the Virgin
Islands than any other state.
See where they have enrolled.
there's a busy Walgreen's, a gas station, and Utuado's
National Guard outpost. And across the river, power
lines that were lying by the roadside in early October
had been put back up by late January.
But classes are now just half an hour, which means the
teachers assign less homework and approach the coursework differently. They try to get some of their work done
at home, assuming they have power themselves.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, plans to provide $15 million in
additional funding for districts serving the
nearly 2,500 evacuees from Puerto Rico
and the U.S. Virgin Islands. As a result,
Holyoke could receive about $6,000 per
student, said Stephen Zrike, who the state
appointed as the district superintendent
in 2015 after years of sluggish academic
performance and low graduation rates.
The state had previously split a $60,000
grant under the federal McKinney-Vento
Homeless Assistance Act among the districts that had enrolled the largest number of evacuees, which came to about
$5,000 per district, Zrike said.
But Holyoke is not letting the availability of state aid determine its response, he added.
"Our approach is that we are going
to do what we need to do to ensure that
once they [arrive], they are going to get to
school as soon as possible," Zrike said. "We
are going to be flexible."
If the influx continues, Zrike's wish list
includes Spanish-language books, teachers, counselors, and help for the homelessassistance coordinator whose caseload
Holyoke had registered nearly 200 Puerto
Rican students by the end of January, though
Thousands of Displaced
Puerto Rican Students
López worries about where things are headed.
"We are falling a little bit behind," she said. She adds
that the load on teachers is heavy because they struggle
with their own difficulties at home: "If you ask every
single one of the teachers in Puerto Rico right now,
they're going to tell you that, yes, we're kind of burned
out. We have difficulties like every other person."
Like Marta Lafontaine, López's school served in the
Maria recovery effort. Bernardo Gonzalez Colon staff
members helped prepare hundreds of meals in their
cafeteria for people in another Utuado school, Judith A.
Vivas, that served as a temporary shelter.
López tries to take a gentle approach with her students.
"We help them, and we listen to them, and we give
them love," she said. "I think that's what really matters right now-not to push them too hard, but try to
do our best."
Number of displaced students enrolled
a smaller number of students, 182, are actually in the system. The district allowed the
newcomer students to attend the schools in
their neighborhoods to minimize disruptions
and avoid busing them to unfamiliar neighborhoods. While that decision has its advantages, it also means that grades in some
schools are nearing capacity, officials said.
A Newcomer Academy at Holyoke High
School, which opened at the beginning of
the school year, has been providing smallgroup instruction to high school students
with limited proficiency in English. Students have a double-block of English instruction by a certified English-languagelearner teacher, while continuing their
core courses in Spanish. Barbara Page,
the Newcomer Academy lead, plans to
team up with tutors from local colleges
over spring break to provide intensive
tutoring for high school seniors worried
about passing state exams.
"It's a big problem," Page said of the uncertainty seniors feel about whether they
will graduate on time. "We don't want
these students to be penalized for a natural disaster that hit their island."
Housing remains the biggest challenge
for families and the greatest source of instability for students, who may be forced
to move from school to school as their parents' housing situation changes.
While many families are doubled up with
relatives, about 600 families were staying
in hotels and using time-limited vouchers
from the Federal Emergency Management
Agency to cover the cost of housing, said
Betty Medina Lichtenstein, the executive
director of Enlace de Familias, the point-organization for Puerto Rican evacuees heading to western Massachusetts. Many are set
to lose those benefits this week, she said.
A number of parents also do not speak
English, which makes it difficult to immediately find well-paying jobs. And rental
apartments are expensive in western
Frustrated by the slow pace of progress
and the level of disaster assistance they
are receiving, some families have decided
PAGE 18 >
Students from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have steadily
enrolled in Florida's public schools since Hurricane Maria struck
last September. More than 11,000 students from Puerto Rico
and 900 from the Virgin Islands were enrolled in the state's
K-12 schools at the end of January.
Note: Data may include students who moved from one district to another.
SOURCE: Puerto Rico and Virgin Island Enrollments, Florida Department of Education
EDUCATION WEEK | February 14, 2018 | www.edweek.org | 17