Education Week - February 14, 2018 - 18
And Their Schools
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 17
to return to Puerto Rico. The stress is tearing
families apart, Medina Lichtenstein said.
"I don't think that the parents or the children are really taking care of their own
mental health," said Medina Lichtenstein,
whose organization has helped about 2,000
individuals from Puerto Rico. "The children
are also on autopilot."
But the hurricane and the unplanned exodus from Puerto Rico has reunited some families, even as the children struggle to adjust.
Madeline Castañer has now settled in Holyoke with her husband, Julio Robles, who had
left Jayuya, in Puerto Rico, just days before
the hurricane. With Robles already on the
mainland, it was easy to decide to leave after
Maria struck the island and destroyed the
But after Castañer joined Robles last December, their 7-year-old daughter, Juleyska
Robles Castañer, dreaded going to school,
mainly because she didn't understand the
language, her mother said.
Castañer credits the staff at Morgan Elementary School with helping the 1st grader work
through her anxiety. A kindergarten teacher who
speaks Spanish took Juleyska aside in the initial
days to offer reassurance whenever she started
to get anxious, and reviewed class material with
the young girl to help her keep up with her studies. A bilingual classmate also spoke to Juleyska
in Spanish to help her feel comfortable in her
Weeks later, Juleyska is learning English
and making progress, her mother said. While
she would like Juleyska to have more classes
in Spanish, Castañer said she appreciated the
school's efforts to make her daughter's transition a little smoother.
"She feels better that someone is looking out
for her," her mother said.
In the Miami suburb of Homestead, Hurricane Maria also led to a reunion between a
father and his sons.
Diego Ignacio Cordero Sanchez, 16, started
the year as he had many others at La Nueva
Escuela Juan Ponce de León in Guaynabo,
about 20 minutes from San Juan. Diego's
parents had always intended for him to finish high school in Puerto Rico and then move
to the mainland to join his father, Giovanni
Cordero, who left Puerto Rico three years ago,
looking for work.
Hurricane Maria sped up the process.
"We were worried that they were going
to lose a year of school," Cordero said of the
rushed effort to evacuate Diego and his
younger brother, Lorenzo Alberto Cordero Sanchez, 15. "In order to keep them going-and
not fall behind-we had to make the decision."
By the end of October, the boys were settling
into a new three-bedroom home in a planned development that their father had just purchased.
Cordero found himself navigating a school system that is very different from the one he was
used to in Puerto Rico, where he said one can
walk into the school and talk to any teacher
about any pressing issue.
The experience was a "roller coaster," he said,
but it helped that the Miami-Dade school district held a community fair to assist evacuee
families explore schooling options. Diego is also
one of the 50 students that Communities in
Schools of Miami, the local affiliate of the national drop-out prevention program, is helping
with a $60,000 grant the organization received
Photograph by Josh Ritchie for Education Week
Diego Ignacio Cordero Sanchez, 16, left,
and Lorenzo Alberto Cordero Sanchez,
15, with their dad Giovanni Cordero in
Homestead, Fla. The boys came to Florida
after Hurricane Maria to attend school.
from the Miami Foundation.
Diego, who is fluent in English, said the new
system took some getting used to. Most of his
classes in Puerto Rico were in the same room
or nearby rooms. At Homestead Senior High
School, where he and his brother enrolled,
Diego often found himself late as he rushed
from class to class.
His grades have not suffered and at the
end of January his social studies teacher congratulated him on obtaining one of the highest
scores on a quiz about the Great Depression
and World War I.
Lorenzo had an easier time making friends,
but both boys said they are appreciating the
time with their father. Still, Diego misses his
mother, Lina Sanchez, who works at a music
school and is still in Puerto Rico.
"It's scary," he said. "It's difficult knowing that
I am OK here, while she is back there. I definitely
miss her a lot. It's been hard. From that aspect,
it's been hard."
Frank Zenere, the chairman of the crisis-management department at the Miami-Dade school
district, said that he has found that the student
evacuees have been quite resilient.
Miami-Dade counselors and teachers have
been given a checklist of things to do and to avoid
when interacting with their new students.
They are encouraged to: let students know
there is a caring adult in the room, give students
the opportunity to speak about their experience
if they want to, assign a buddy to the new students, and meet with students and families before they enroll.
Zenere, who has spent 20 years helping
school districts get back on track after natural
disasters, school shootings, and other emergencies, said district teachers were also able to empathize with students.
"It was helpful for many of the kids to understand that they were not in this alone and
that this was a community that had a hurricane experience this year-and over the years,"
he said. "I think there was a level of empathy
that was already built into our teachers [and]
Education Week Intern Paula Ospina
contributed to this report.
18 | EDUCATION WEEK | February 14, 2018 | www.edweek.org
EDUCATION WEEK STORIES OUT OF PUERTO RICO
STORY & VIDEO
A Daunting Effort to Reopen
Schools, Headed by a
'This Is My Island.
My Students Need Me.'
A fraction of the island's schools have opened
again in the weeks since Hurricane Maria,
while educators work hard to assess storm
damage and open those that remain viable.
Teachers in the coastal city of Arecibo,
Puerto Rico, have been cleaning up their
high school in hopes of welcoming back
students later this month.
STORY & VIDEO
Puerto Rican Schools Offer Lifeline
in Devastated Communities
Though still closed to students, schools in
many storm-ravaged parts of Puerto Rico
serve as key staging areas for relief efforts,
including food preparation and shelter.
Tensions rise among educators and
policymakers in Puerto Rico over how
to put the island's hurricane-ravaged
school system back on its feet.
See a collection of photos showing how
Puerto Rico's schools and communities are
struggling to recover from the devastation. edweek.org/go/puertorico-photogallery