For years, Puerto Rico has been hit with natural disaster after disaster, making it hard for every sector to recover fully. Education has especially been hit hard, with interruptions in schooling becoming very prevalent in students’ lives. Just last fall, flooding caused many schools in coastal Puerto Rico to close while cleaning out the water, meaning students were missing out on many classes. These constant interruptions have caused students to fall behind in curriculum, worrying both parents and students who have high aspirations that rely on their education.
Back in 2017, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, leaving the entire territory in devastation. On average, schools were closed for up to four months or more. This meant students were far behind in their academic progress, “especially in reading and math.” The gap in education especially affected low-income students who were not able to access external educational resources, widening the wealth disparities in education. After recovery efforts, schools started opening up in order to help students catch up on education. However, this relief, if any, was felt briefly. On January 7, 2020, Puerto Rico experienced a magnitude 6.4 earthquake. There were reports of strong shaking from people inside buildings and damage to homes and property. As a result, schools were declared closed again until the completion of a full inspection of each school to assess structural damage and security for future incidents.
Then, 2 years later, in September of 2022, Puerto Rico was hit with another storm known as Hurricane Fiona. The hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico, leaving communities flooded and infrastructure destroyed beyond repair. Since the majority of schools did not have electricity and water and had incurred physical damage from the storm, they remained closed for a long period of time. The government announced that around 80% of schools would be open by September 26, 2022. However, many students would still not be able to attend as they did not have access to essential resources like food and water. Students were even further impacted bu Hurricane Fiona because they had already missed out on in-person education during the COVID-19 pandemic, and many had not received quality online learning from their schools. In fact, almost one-fourth of Puerto Rican students did not have internet access during the pandemic. Despite the struggles they have faced, Puerto Rican schools are often ignored in discussions about the US education system. The location is susceptible to natural disasters, and procedures and policies have not been set in place to provide a safety net for these schools in crisis situations. These schools are not equipped to ensure education after and during natural disasters, meaning students are being negatively impacted as well. Due to this issue being brought to light, the US government has recently taken an interest in finding a solution. They signed off on around $6 billion in federal funding to improve the Puerto Rican schooling system. To this date, that money has been used to increase teacher salaries and increase access to tutoring. Schools and teachers in Puerto Rico hope to see the funding used to better their education and improve educational outcomes for their students so that natural disasters cannot hinder their success.