Schools in Puerto Rico open without power and water
Frequent readers may remember our summer time coverage of the schools mergers and the controversy that surrounded them. At the end of July tensions were high and confusion was rampant as misinformation surrounding the school mergers circulated on social media. Puerto Rico and the world were watching the situation closely, opponents ready to call out failures of the mergers and supporters ready to publicize any success.
School was only in session for a close to one month when Irma hit Puerto Rico. Schools closed for two weeks as a result of Hurricane Irma, only to close again after Maria hit. That means that schools were closed for more than half of September, and nearly all of October. The mergers were relatively untested, as it was too early to see if the kinks would be worked out or not. Now that a month has passed since Hurricane Maria, it seems that the mergers will remain untested for the foreseeable future.
Puerto Rico’s schools are struggling to open. Schools in two districts, San Juan and Mayagüez opened on the 24, and several schools in Bayamón and Ponce are set to open the 30. Not all of the schools will reopen. 119 schools were opened on the 24, although all opened without power, and more than half opened without running water. Puerto Rico has more than 1,000 schools, and some are still waiting to be evaluated. At least 70 won’t be re-opened due to severe damage. Others, while safe, are being used to serve the communities in other ways that they need. Close to 200 schools are being used as community centers, limiting classes to end by noon. Other schools have been converted into shelters for people whose homes fell to Maria’s destructive powers.
The lack of safe structures, power, and water, are not the only problems facing the schools. Due to the destruction, uncertainty, and personal loss the hurricanes have caused, many teachers have taken a leave of absence for the semester in order to get their lives back together. Schools also face a student body, and teachers, who may have been traumatized by the disaster. The schools and the authorities are working to find ways to balance wellness and mindfulness activities to help students cope with catching up with the curriculum. Making sure that the students’ learning doesn’t lag behind the curriculum due to the missed days and lack of power and access is a huge concern for parents, teachers, and the government. Getting schools open as soon as possible, even though they don’t have power, is part of a conscious decision to try to combat losing out. Its likely that the school year will be extended into the summer as well. Authorities in the community are also using the schools as a hub for needs assessment, making sure that people are getting food, and asking if people need access to medicines. It is a convenient way to gather people and assess needs.
It will be a long and hard road to return to normalcy in Puerto Rico, but the return to school will hopefully help some families feel a little closer.