Reading & Literacy

At Puerto Rican School, Lifting Spirits With Read-Aloud Event

By Andrew Ujifusa — October 10, 2017 2 min read
Students participate in "From Reading to Hope" activities at Maria Vasquez de Umpierre School in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. School principal Jessica Hernandez and others organized the event to help students reorient themselves in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
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Bayamon, Puerto Rico

Alianey Arana, 13, normally doesn’t attend Maria Vasquez de Umpierre School here. But a great deal is abnormal about her life since Hurricane Maria, and when the school got word out that it was hosting an event called “From Reading to Hope” earlier this week, she wanted to attend.

“It feels different,” said Arana, who doesn’t have any friends at the school, but is still upbeat. “I feel happy because I can see everybody’s OK.”

The event on Monday featured a read-aloud activity for about 75 school-age children and their parents, as well as other physical and artistic activities structured “in order to create a growth mindset” after the disaster, said Jessica Hernandez, the K-8 school’s principal. Teachers trained for the event, including in some crisis-intervention techniques.

See Also: In Puerto Rico, a Daunting Effort to Reopen Schools, Headed by a Determined Leader

“The school is the essence of what is the school community, and the extended community,” Hernandez said. “And it should be ... where the community can come together and deal with these issues.”

Puerto Rican actress Mariana Quiles read The Day the Dog Said “¡Quiquiriqui!” (the last word is the Spanish version of a rooster’s crow) to children of various ages at Maria Vasquez de Umpierre. In the story, other animals pulled switcheroos: After a big storm, a cow, for example, starts quacking like a duck.

Carefully Chosen

The organizers didn’t choose this story haphazardly.

“The story is very elementary,” said Marisa Gonzalez, an English coach at the school who also works for Scholastic, Inc., which helped to organize the event. “But when you look at the essence of the story, the animals go through something like a hurricane.”

Hernandez said the children bring different experiences concerning the storm to school with them. Still, she hopes events like this prepare students a little bit for when Maria Vasquez de Umpierre reopens, ideally on Oct. 23.

Aliancy Arana, 13, passes by the flag of Puerto Rico at the read-aloud event at Maria Vasquez de Umpierre School in Bayamon.

But the “From Reading to Hope” activities won’t erase the memories of the storm for Alianey, who recalled that the hurricane “was scary because of the rain. ... It was terrifying.” One structure attached to her house blew away, but otherwise her home remained intact, and she has the basic supplies she needs for living.

And when it comes to what Alianey misses most about school, the list she ticks off seems prosaic until you factor in Hurricane Maria: “Talking with my friends, seeing my teachers, going to class.”

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