This time last year, Hurricane Maria ravaged the island of Puerto Rico. Nearly 3,000 people died from the storm, according to one report. Thousands more were forced to flee the island and Buffalo became the new home for many Puerto Ricans in the days and months following the hurricane's landfall. More than 500 new students enrolled at Buffalo Public Schools as a result of the displacement.
Of those 500 students, around 120 found a new academic home at P.S. 76 Herman Badillo Bilingual Academy.
"Everybody is supportive of Puerto Rico," Alejandra Gutierrez, a 7th grader at Herman Badillo, said. "They know what we've been through and they help us a lot."
Gutierrez came to Buffalo with her family after witnessing the devastation of Hurricane Maria firsthand.
"We felt like the building was moving and everything. It felt really bad," she explained. "There was no light. No connection. No nothing. It was horrible."
Only a "handful" of those 500 students have left Buffalo Public Schools to return to Puerto Rico, according to the district. It will have a more specific number when student enrollment is reported to New York State on October 3.
"We are a real family," music teacher William Pagan of Herman Badillo said. "We are here to support our students. We are here to teach. We are here to also learn from the students and we are here to help."
Pagan knows just how difficult the move to Buffalo, while a hurricane causes chaos at home, can be. He was recruited by BPS before Hurricane Maria and left his wife and family in Puerto Rico to start teaching last school year. His family is safe and made it through the hurricane. His wife has since moved to Buffalo.
"I am very proud of the Puerto Rican and Hispanic community here," Pagan said.
Buffalo Public Schools and community partners like BestSelf Behavioral Health and Coats for Kids all worked to help make the transition easier. Support to find housing, jobs and other services was offered to displaced families.
The school district was also well prepared to support students from Puerto Rico. Teachers and staff were already trained to understand "trauma informed care" to help respond to students struggling with the sudden move. It also has supports in place for students learning English for the first time.
New York State also provided $689,000 in spring of 2018 to specifically help support the influx of students who were not accounted for in the yearly budget.
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