Update from Puerto Rico

Darlene Vazquez, Sales Director for Scholastic International―with a home base in Puerto Rico―joins edu@scholastic to share an update on what life has been like for educators, kids and families since Hurricane Maria struck the island in September. Darlene wrote this story in the first week of November.

After 48 days since Hurricane Maria stormed through the island, this week approximately 500 of 1,200 schools opened their doors to receive students. (Teachers have been back to work for two―and some for three―weeks now). This is amazing progress considering the obstacles we climbed over and under to meet with school principals and conduct our crisis intervention event, From Reading to Hope.

Below are pictures we took on our way to meet with the teachers from one of our local high schools.

We also worked with teachers to clear debris in schools: The first picture below shows one of the high school teachers, and in the bottom picture one of our staff members works shoulder-to-shoulder with a teacher.

We have also been working with parents and students at schools. Below are some of the powerful moments we shared with them.

We have also done follow-up work with some of the schools that have participated in From Reading to Hope Initiative. At one of our partner schools, Maria Vazquez de Umpierre, we had a second family and community follow-up event in partnership with Pillsbury, Apple & Eve juices, Burger King and #yonomequito foundation to provide continued support and prepare the school community to restart classes.

It was an inspirational event that shows how instrumental our support is in helping our school communities grow stronger by uniting for a common goal. Every child attending the event received a Scholastic bag with crayons, markers, snacks and an activity book provided by teachers from Farragut Intermediate School just outside of Knoxville, Tennessee.

All in all we are doing well. Students are happy to be going back to school and (I suspect) so are their parents! The restart of the school year will be instrumental in helping our island recover allowing parents to go back to work, and students to start living some semblance of everyday routines.

Although our power authority reports it is generating electricity at 30%, this translates to more than 70% of the population living without power. Outside of the San Juan area it is a challenge to obtain drinking water on a daily basis. From our staff and office, I can report that one person from our office staff has recovered electricity, water and internet service! The best part is that she has opened up her home as a work station and is busy with our other office staff helping us stay current with documentation related to our different school projects funded by the Puerto Rico Department of Education with federal grants.

The rest of us are patiently and desperately waiting to recover electricity. Some of us have been without power for 60 days now, dating back to Hurricane Irma which struck the island on September 5th, two weeks before Hurricane Maria. Our office has no power or water.

We have lots of hope for a stronger Puerto Rico. One full of opportunities for all our people, with the best education for our students, and a society that works together for a better future.