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An ‘overwhelming show’ of support from the whole community

An IB World School in Puerto Rico was badly affected by Hurricane Maria. But that didn’t stop teachers and students helping local communities to rebuild and recover

Hurricane Maria brought brutal devastation to the island of Puerto Rico on 20 September 2017. It was the second category 5 hurricane to threaten the island in as many weeks. The majority of homes, roads, bridges and vegetation were destroyed, and the island was left without power and cellphone communication. Many residents did not have access to clean water, and still don’t.

“Most of us had never experienced the full force of such a hurricane and it is something that will forever remain in our thoughts as a very horrific experience. Our island was left severely crippled”, says Laura Maristany, Director of Studies and IB Diploma Programme (DP) coordinator at Baldwin School of Puerto Rico.”It was a time for the island to come together in solidarity. There was an ‘overwhelming show’ of support from the whole community”, recalls Maristany.

Baldwin School of Puerto Rico experienced structural damage, flooding and a power outage. But, 18 days later, the school reopenedit was one of the first schools to do so. The damage was easily repaired and they used generators for power up until mid-November.

“Everyone stepped up, helped out, and made a difference in some way. It was thanks to our students, teachers, parents and all other members of our community that we were able to clean debris and rubble from our campus and make it ready for classes to start again in record time. The school’s administration has actively supported teachers, students and families who have undergone severe hardship”, adds Maristany.

Despite their own personal losses, teachers were eager to get students back in the classroom. For the students, school was a welcome distraction. “We were determined to help our students and their families regain at least a little sense of normality and routine, which we all needed desperately. They were supportive and very excited to return to school knowing that the semester would not be lost. Many of our DP students were also very relieved because they worried how they would make up for the time lost”.

Student Nara Finkelstein says: “Hurricane Maria was a heartbreaking and challenging experience. As a senior this year, I was very worried about how my college application process was going to be impacted.  Nonetheless, my school was extremely supportive and helped us tremendously to make sure our applications would get done and submitted on time. They opened the school library, even when school was still closed, and got the Wi-Fi to work quickly so that those of us who had no power at home could come and use the school’s facilities. Our community did a great job coming together to help all those in need”.

Baldwin School of Puerto Rico is now raising funds to support schools most adversely impacted by the hurricanes. Headmaster James Nelligan says: “We are in discussions with Puerto Rico’s Secretary of Education. We intend to provide grants to public and independent schools in Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands to expedite their recovery efforts. We are working to get all children back to school sooner than later”.

Students have also shown compassion and courage. They have since committed to helping other communities through student-led campaigns and raise funds, food, and provide water to those that are in need. Maristany says: “Baldwin students have made us very proud. They have demonstrated their commitment to being caring, empathetic leaders that are helping to rebuild their island”.

Today, Puerto Rico still continues to struggle with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, and will do so for a very long time. More than 45 per cent of the island remains without power and many public schools are still closed.

“The trauma is still fresh”, adds Maristany. “Nonetheless, our students have shown resilience and they are working very hard to continue with their learning”.


This article is part of a series of stories from IB World magazine that bring to life the wonderful initiatives undertaken by IB students and educators from around the globe. Follow these stories on Twitter @IBorganization #IBcommunitystories. Share your great stories and experiences: email editor@ibo.org.