Hurricane Maria: The Education Aftermath
By Manuel Hernandez-Carmona - copyright
On September 20th, Hurricane Maria came in and out of The Island of Puerto Rico with devastating force. In the blink of an eye, millions of Puerto Ricans were left without water and electricity. Thousands lost their homes, and many were left with the decision of whether to stay on the Island and suffer severe living conditions or make their way to Florida where more than 1,000,000 people of Puerto Rican origin had already accomodated themselves. Puerto Ricans in Florida, non-profit organizations, government officals, lawmakers, schools and churches have worked hard to find them homes, jobs, social services and make them feel at home. But the greatest challenge has been to register them in schools in the area and facilitate their academic language learning needs at the speed of lightning.
The education aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Central Florida is still not totally clear. Thousands of students have enrolled in Central Florida schools, particularly in Osceola and Orange Counties. Classrooms have become overpopulated, and new teacher hires are floating from one classroom to another. School Districts have turned to the State Government for a revamping of their budgets. Schools have received the new and incoming students with underfunded budgets and have made ends meet, pun intended, with what they had for the current academic school year (2017-2018). It is like accomodating a family of ten in a studio apartment.
Who are the affected in the process? Teachers? Administrators? How can real alternatives facilitate the painful academic situations caused as a result of the aftermath? Puerto Rican students in Central Florida are now part of the nation’s rising ELL population. ELL’s are English Language Learners that are primarily students who have difficulties in mastering English Language skills, and whose first language is another language other than English. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 10 percent of the United States school population fall under that category and are classified as English Language Learners. The numbers are staggering, especially in states like California, Texas and Florida. As more and more ELL’s from Puerto Rico register in Florida schools, there is a call for a vision, a plan and real strategies that will not only help the recently arrived but those who will eventually settle in the neighborhoods close to the world’s greatest theme park.
Three months after September 20th, Puerto Ricans continue to move into Central Florida at unprecedented rates. Imagine a high school senior who registered in a Central Florida school with a semester left in high school but now having to take four major standardized exams (PERT, FSA, SAT and ACT) as a requirement for high school graduation and all in English. While the education aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Central Florida is still not totally clear, the truth is that a plan to tackle the academic needs of these so-called ELL’s is a must and necessary. Walt Disney dreamed of a park where people from all over the world could come, play, have fun and entertain themselves, but he did not envision the growth and scope of that dream. The dream is here, and we are still on time to provide these and other students with a quality education that will enable their academic competence to help them bridge the academic gap and realize their specific and personal dreams as well.