PR: It All Begins With People

Tuesday. The Education Department had power until noon, when one of the main areas of the San Juan grid crashed, leaving most government offices without power or water. The main server they use was also powered by the same section, effectively cutting us off and handcuffing the government. We kept working. In the morning, I met Ian (shown here with me and Valeria, my team captain), a student from an elite family, whose main concern (the reason why he was waiting in the Ed Dept) was getting into the early college program. In PR, you can qualify for leaving high school early, not by seat time in classes (credits based on courses taken), but by placement tests. He missed the testing limit by one point…but things should turn out ok, since he has already been enrolled in college math classes at UPR, and has participated in a number of science-research-type projects and volunteerism. He just has to wait until the Ed Sec can see him…in the midst of all this. While he waited, we shared some thoughts—he says the seniors he knows are panicked because of being cut off from the college admissions process. They are cut off from school, their teachers, counselors, Naviance…I know I would not be able to write letters of recommendation if I was living in those conditions! Imagine how it is for them. And will they even be able to go to college now? Ian also told me that most students view school as “something you have to get through,” and are not engaged with the lessons which they view as “irrelevant” to their lives. He shares the view of the Ed Dept that starting with design thinking and making at a young age and following all the way through will help kids to learn more deeply and will change PR. He senses that there is an urgent need for him to stay home and rebuild, but he wants to go to college in “the states.” He handles the situation matter-of-factly. His family home is without power, but they have water—it’s the standard greeting. “We’re fine—we have water,” “we’re fine—we’re staying with our relatives (this is often 15 people in a room)—they have water.” Sometimes they share that they don’t know where their uncle is, haven’t heard from cousins in the mountains, or the southeast

Also visited with Yvette and Rafael, principals of a STEAM high school and elementary school respectively. They have both spent days with teachers shoveling out, fixing leaks and trying to locate generators, trying to find their teachers and families. This is accomplished by driving around, sometimes WAY around, to look them up. There is no reliable phone service. Principals find the teachers; teachers find their students. They have had a week or two of school this year. They both believe they will be ready to open school on the 23rd, but they have no idea how many students and teachers from broken schools they will be hosting. Rafael looked like he had gotten very little sleep, but both considered themselves very fortunate. Yvette said, “I used to be in theater—I can get the show back on.” They are concerned about health issues…children desperate to come to school, even sick. School buildings that were used as shelters, harboring diseases like tuberculosis (one school could not reopen as scheduled on Wednesday because of it), and children who will possibly carry cholera, typhoid…not your average “day-care-cough.” Both are excited about the potential of design thinking to help them through the transition, and to change the dynamic between teachers and students to a more engaged, collaborative one. Still, they are planning to co-locate with other schools if they have to, and have no idea what to expect.

While we were meeting with the three teachers (we did not have time to get their names and contact), an Ed Dept official ran in and said, “we are all going to have to move!” This made it difficult to concentrate, especially as the building was getting quite warm. BUT, we learned that teachers are expected to provide EVERYTHING. Typical teachers spend $70 a month on copying toner for their personal printers, buy paper, books, and any other materials for their classrooms, as well as painting it and the outside of the school too, at their own expense. A typical teacher is paid $25,000 per year, and living expenses are quite like New York City (because PR is an island). They have been to their schools, and have been shoveling them out, helping to fix plumbing and wiring, hoping to get generator parts, and in one case, teaching her (and others’) students outside. They believe that there will be many schools without walls, water, or power come the 23rd, and do not believe that health and stability inspections will have taken place. There are 1100 schools on the island. They said that they are eager to learn about design thinking and project-based learning—“we WANT to—we just need to know HOW.” There is no professional development provided on the island. How are they feeling about school these days? “We’re fine—we’re used to doing without.”


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