School Climate & Safety

Through a 5th Grader’s Eyes: Puerto Rico’s School Disruption

By Andrew Ujifusa — October 11, 2017 1 min read
Odaric Rodriguez Ortega and his mother, Sue-Ellen Ortega, embrace at the Federico Asenjo School in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Closed to students, the school serves meals and potable water to those like the Ortegas whose lives have been disrupted by Hurricane Maria.
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San Juan, Puerto Rico

Odaric Rodriguez Ortega loves history class, is missing his favorite teacher Mrs. Fontanez, and hasn’t been back to class at Manuel Boada Elementary since Hurricane Maria struck.

Ten years old and in the 5th grade, Odaric was back at school in San Juan over the weekend—but he wasn’t at his own school, and he wasn’t in class. Instead, he was at Federico Asenjo School here, getting a meal in a Styrofoam container with his mother, Sue-Ellen Ortega.

It’s a sign of how disjointed and disconnected the educational system in Puerto Rico is right now that the Federico Asenjo School, where the Ortegas were eating, was serving the function that so many schools are after the storm: as a source of prepared food, potable water, and maybe a bit of company for those struggling with basic needs.

See Also: Here’s How Teachers Can Help With Relief Efforts in Puerto Rico

Odaric’s life seems stable, but only up to a point.

“My life was very dangerous with Maria. ... So many people lost windows that fell out. ... We have a generator. We have water,” he said. “I worry about other people that have had danger and been hurt by the hurricane. The most difficult part of my day is [thinking about] all the people who are lost and hungry.”

Odaric Rodriguez Ortega, 10, at the Federico Asenjo School in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

He’s seen his home school once since the hurricane and said it’s still standing and in pretty good shape. But he’s only seen two classmates since the storm.

Not surprisingly, Odaric isn’t really getting any studying done since Hurricane Maria. But he’s eager to get back to learning about Spain and the conquistadores.

“I have to learn so much at the school,” said Odaric, whose mother and grandmother work at a different school cleaning and cooking.

But that will take some time. Odaric said he’s been told that he’ll be able to go back to Manuel Boada Elementary on Nov. 30. But he won’t be in San Juan just then. Instead, he’ll be visiting with relatives in New York City, starting in late October.

Unlike many others who many be relocating permanently to the mainland, however, he isn’t going to stay there. Odaric will be coming back to San Juan in December, and he said the plan is for him to return to school at that time.

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