Schools in Puerto Rico continue to push forward despite everyday challenges

Students learn in classrooms without power, air conditioning

MAYAGUEZ, Puerto Rico – For the first time, News 6 is on the ground seeing some of the destruction left behind after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico.

Educators with the University of Central Florida's STEM program traveled to the island to find out how they can help. 

One of the schools in the city of Mayaguez, about 100 miles west of San Juan, is scraping by each day. 

Franklin D. Roosevelt Elementary School sits in a lower-income part of the community. 

Government housing is on one side of the school and a loud and busy intersection hugs the other. About 167 students fill the campus.

Daisy Delvalle, a teacher at the school, said the school needs to have 200 students enrolled to avoid risking a shutdown at the school. When asked if the school was in jeopardy of closing she said, "We're in threat list. We're in that possible list."

Limited air conditioning follows the trend on the island. Only certain classrooms have box air conditioners. 

In the lunchroom, workers attempt to keep insects at bay  while meals are served. The lunchroom does not have an air conditioning unit. 

"Since we have to open all the windows all the mosquito and all the bugs are coming inside,"  Delvalle said. 

Another employee told News 6 that the one bathroom in the cafeteria leaks relentlessly. A repair request was put in last month but the problem has not been fixed.

In the library, ceiling tiles appear rotted out and there are holes in certain areas. 

But the resiliency and push to create normalcy remains in the simplicity of pictures. 

In a third-grade classroom, students drew pictures of how they felt about the hurricane. Many of them depicting shaking trees, boats and weathered homes, yet the colors remain bright and hopeful. 

A few miles away at another school, CROEM, a STEM school in Mayaguez, is running off two generators. 

But not all classrooms have electricity. 

Students who attend class in the non-generator areas sit in the classroom until the sun goes down. Before Hurricane Maria, they would stay and learn until the late hours of the night. 

The school has the feel of a college campus and caters to advanced students in math and science.

Furthering any sort of education was halted when Maria hit. 

"We are behind schedule. The standardized tests are in May and, right now, with these conditions, I don't think that we can meet the expectations of the standardized tests," said Carols Rosario,  a math teacher at CROEM. 

As each new day approaches, so does hope that the generators will keep running. 

And even if they do, it's a challenge just to get to the school. 

It's located at Cerros Las Mesas, which translates to the peak or highest part of the area. 

"Some parents ended up renting places to make sure that their students will be able to show up every day to school," said Jose Lopez Rivera, an English teacher at CROEM. 

Rivera doesn't deny that it's been difficult, and that challenges remain and may remain for years, but he thrives on his love for his students and his outlook is contagious. 

"Don't worry. Just always smile because if you're smiling, your family will be smiling too," Rivera said.