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The Aftermath of Hurricane Maria Continues to Affect Puerto Rico

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The Aftermath of Hurricane Maria Continues to Affect Puerto Rico

West Springfield schools have had over 80 students from hurricane-torn Puerto Rico and have hired more ELL teachers to assist in their transition.

West Springfield schools have had over 80 students from hurricane-torn Puerto Rico and have hired more ELL teachers to assist in their transition.

West Springfield schools have had over 80 students from hurricane-torn Puerto Rico and have hired more ELL teachers to assist in their transition.

West Springfield schools have had over 80 students from hurricane-torn Puerto Rico and have hired more ELL teachers to assist in their transition.


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Four months ago on September 20, 2017, Puerto Rico, and other Caribbean Islands were hit by a category four hurricane named Hurricane Maria, one of the strongest storms Puerto Rico had seen in 85 years. Maria knocked all the power out of the island, destroyed homes, uprooted trees, and overall turned the once beautiful island into a dangerous place.Puerto Rico is still feeling the impact of this monstrous storm. The economy of the island has gone down, they haven’t had full power restored, and there are investigations beginning because people are questioning Maria’s death toll. This event, as tragic as it is, has brought the community together. Those who have had schools and homes destroyed have traveled to the states to settle until conditions on the island improve. Many have come to Western Mass in order to attend school, including the West Springfield school district. Although Hurricane Maria happened about four months ago, the effects of it are still lingering.

Puerto Rico had previously been completely in the dark for at least two months after the hurricane. After almost two and a half months without power, (mid-November) 50% of the island’s electricity was restored, then on December 15th, 55% had been restored to the island, and finally 70% was restored on December 19th. According to a CNN article from December 29th, “The Army Corps of Engineers has projected that power will be restored for most people by March, but those in very remote areas might have to wait until May because of the difficulty in moving supplies.” Not having power and easily accessible supplies continually affects the community.

WSHS Junior, Brendan Diaz, has many family members that live in the areas that have been severely affected by the hurricane. When he tried to contact his family to see if they were okay, the line was dead because all the cell towers had been knocked down. “The first couple weeks of the hurricane were the toughest, there was no cell service to contact anyone down there. When we couldn’t get ahold of our family, we were very scared.” All of his family had lost power and his grandmother had been without power for over three months, only getting it a few days ago. He continued to explain how the hurricane not only destroyed homes and eliminated the power, but “the hurricane destroyed the crops and vegetation making it hard to find groceries and fresh food, and stores not being open due to the lack of power. Lines at gas stations were miles long because so many people were trying to get gas to power generators.”

When President Trump visited Puerto Rico on October 3rd, a main point he made during his press conference was about the relatively low number of fatalities from the storm, which was 16 at the time. The number rose to 34 a few days later, and the official toll as of right now is at 64 deaths. Still, many believe the number of deaths may be even higher. When the Governor of Puerto Rico saw this, he believed that the government needed to look into the death toll of Hurricane Maria. He wanted it to be reviewed to discover which deaths were directly or indirectly related to the storm because they knew about the lives taken during the storm, but what about the deaths caused by the aftermath? CNN then decided to investigate and survey half of the funeral homes in Puerto Rico. They found that funeral home directors and staff believe that at least 499 deaths in the first month after the storm were attributable to Hurricane Maria. According to a CNN article from December 18th, The New York Times, instead of taking current data from the funeral homes or getting first hand accounts, “compiled statistics from the island’s Demographic Registry showing that the death toll may be more than 1,000… they counted excess deaths in 2017 compared with deaths in previous years.”

All the lives lost and damages of Puerto Rico are causing many families to begin searching for refuge in the states to help their children, especially if their school was destroyed, which many were. Many children from Puerto Rico are evacuating to the mainland to continue school and stay away from the wreckage. According to a Masslive article from December 22nd, 2017, over 2,000 students have enrolled in Massachusetts schools. 800 of those have enrolled in Western Mass, and the biggest population is in Springfield (more than 550) and in Holyoke (more than 170).

West Side, and surrounding towns, have been doing their part to help those affected by the hurricane. The students coming from Puerto Rico have been attending either Coburn, Mittineague or Fausey, depending on grade level. As of January 18th, 2018, there were 83 students from Puerto Rico enrolled in the West Springfield Public School district, according to Superintendent Michael Richard. Of those 83 students, only about two of the transferred students are not English Language Learner (ELL). To assist the students that can’t speak fluent English, or need assistance in school, a request was made to the School Committee for five additional teachers, three being ELL and two being Special Education. Sue Mulvaney, a retired Spanish teacher at WSMS, has been hired by the district to help provide native language support to the students and serve as a liaison to the families. The middle school also has had 40 students enroll from Puerto Rico. Mr. Gillen, WSMS principal, said that, “students who speak Spanish joined the new students and families as we gave them their first tour and explained how our school operates.” This was to help the families and student feel more welcome to the middle school and help them acclimate to the situation. According to Gillen, the staff and students have been very helpful and everything has been going great.

Here in the high school, twelve students have transferred since October, but three went home to Puerto Rico. We currently have nine students in WSHS and “it’s been continuous,” said Mrs. Bard, the guidance counselor in charge of the students from Puerto Rico. “Students have been acclimating pretty well. In the ESL program, the students travel with the same block of students throughout their school day, so they seem to be making friends quickly within their group and other Spanish speaking students,” said Bard. She sees them beginning to branch out, asking about clubs and how they can join a sports team, which Mr. Dulette, our Athletic Director, is organizing.

The amount of students planning on staying here or returning home has been “mixed”, according to Bard. Some students want to stay until graduation (or some families want to relocate here), while others are only going to stay until their school, or home, in Puerto Rico is stable.

The full scope of the devastation Puerto Rico has experienced is one that very few understand. It ruined the beautiful flora and fauna, took many lives, destroyed the economy due to the fact they haven’t been able to make money off of tourism (which heavily contributed to their economy), and forever changed the lives of everyone on the island. Even the families of those in Puerto Rico in the states have been affected. Mr. Rivera, a math teacher at the high school, shared a thought that many with family in Puerto Rico share. “It should not have taken as long as it did to get help to them, especially since Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the US and has been since 1902. It makes me wonder if this happened in a much wealthier place, like Hollywood, Boston, or NY, would [the government] be this slow to respond?”

Conditions in Puerto Rico are slowly but surely improving. Many schools have been getting power back, but 450,000 residents are still without power nine months later. Debris still litters the island, but the community has been working together more than ever to improve the conditions. Although Puerto Rico is improving and starting to take on minimal tourism, this island will never be the same, but the community will always be working together to make their home the best it can be.

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The Aftermath of Hurricane Maria Continues to Affect Puerto Rico