WNPR

Connecticut Schools Welcome Hundreds Of Displaced Puerto Rican Students

Nov 10, 2017

At least 600 students from hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico have now registered in Connecticut schools. 

Most have gone to busy inner-city districts, including Hartford, Waterbury, and New Britain.

The state must decide whether to apply for federal aid through FEMA to provide additional resources for families displaced by the disaster. But for now, schools are having to work within their existing budgets to accommodate extra students.

Charlene Russell-Tucker of the Connecticut Department of Education told WNPR's Where We Live, it’s a challenging situation. 

"Districts are individually developing plans," she said. "What is the appropriate school, maybe what's the appropriate classroom, based on grade level, that will be more supportive and helpful? And also working in partnerships with community organizations for additional resources and support that children and family may need."

The ombudsman for Hartford Public Schools, Marta Bentham said at least 160 students affected by Hurricane Maria have now arrived in the district.

"The first thing that these families needed was a funnel, a place where they all had to come through in order to receive the first thing that the children needed - which was education," she explained.

Hartford now has a welcome center on Main Street at its Board of Education offices, which acts as a one-stop shop for displaced families.

She said that most people are arriving without paperwork either on their school record, or health care issues like vaccination. But their needs go beyond the immediate concern of getting into class or finding their way around school.

"After we have settled the child in school, then we start with the rest of the family," she said, adding that they attempt to help with housing, employment and other big challenges.

New Haven schools Chief Operating Officer Will Clark said the city's work with refugee and immigrant populations in the past is informing the way it tackles this new challenge.

"The majority of our student population now is Hispanic, so we have many programs, including dual language, so that transition can be a bit easier," he said.

He said the district is helping to resolve problems students are encountering in working through the trauma they experienced during the hurricane and its aftermath.

This story is part of “The Island Next Door,” WNPR’s reporting project about Puerto Rico and Connecticut after Hurricane Maria.