Students from Puerto Rico enroll in Central Florida schools

Capacity could become an issue in Osceola County

By Vanessa Araiza - Reporter

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. - Central Florida school systems continue to see their enrollment numbers climb as families from Puerto Rico make their way to Florida. 

Osceola County alone has close to 100 students enrolling each day. 

"About in the last four weeks we have over a thousand new students. For a total, as of yesterday 1,451. We enrolled 73 new students yesterday in our district from the island of Puerto Rico,"  Osceola County Schools Superintendent Dr. Debra Pace said. 

The school system is also hiring evacuees. 

Twenty-nine teachers now have a job through Osceola County schools. 

Jeanette Valentin is one of them.

"Basically, I lost everything. I even got my car stolen. So, it's like starting all over again," Valentin said. "We had no time to escape. We had to just stay there and endure what was happening and everything got wet and there was a lot of mold and we were told we had to (move) from the house."

Valentin's home in the southern part of Puerto Rico was severely damaged. 

She was already speaking to Boggy Creek Elementary's principal about a teaching job pre-Hurricane Maria.

In fact, she was on the phone with the principal the night the storm hit but the conversation was cut short. 

Three weeks later, when communication was made again, she was assured she had a job at the school. 

"I am blessed because I am in a school where everybody has been helpful. I have car pooling. I have people who pick me up and take me places," Valentin said. 

The district needed her, too; especially with dozens of students enrolling each day.

Pace said the school will not turn students away but there is looming fear of overcapacity. 

"Ideally, we want full funding from the state to serve these students' needs. Many of them came in after our October semester count. Over a thousand additional students since then and it takes money to pay teachers, to buy textbooks and supplies and bilingual dictionaries," Pace said. 

Thanks to generous donations from community members, supplies and food have been provided to students and their families. 

The City of St. Cloud donated a $50,000 check to the school board this week to help with costs. 

"I really don't see this as a short-term issue," Pace said.

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