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Puerto Rican Enrollment Up In Ohio Schools Following Hurricane Maria

Empty classroom
Ashton Marra

More than two months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico, a handful of the Big 8 school districts in Ohio say they’re seeing an influx of students in their public schools.

The Cleveland Metropolitan School District is reporting the largest number of Puerto Rican students enrolled so far this school year, with more than 190 families seeking help since the Sept. 20 storm.

Jose Gonzalez, who heads the district’s multicultural multilingual office, says Cleveland began preparing for the students before the storm hit by first advising teachers and principals.

“[We told them] you are about to receive a huge influx of English Language Learners from Puerto Rico, more than ever,” Gonzalez said.

Language barriers are just one challenge for Ohio school districts, though, as they cope to provide students with the services they need.

Lorain City Schools reported about 60 families had moved to the community before the Thanksgiving holiday and in Youngstown, the district’s Communications Director Denise Dick says they’ve seen a slow trickle of students since the storm.

“We have more that keep enrolling. I don’t know when that’s going to slow down," Dick said. "It’s not every day, but it’s been a trickle.”

Youngstown has enrolled 50 students so far, Dick said. Those with English language deficiencies receive partial help in the classroom from a bilingual aide, but Dick said there are 23 aides in the district of 5,100 students. Four percent of those students were assisted by aides before new Puerto Rican students arrived.

"We're doing the best we can," Dick said of the strained resources in the district. "We are working to bring more people on board, though."

Cleveland, Lorain and Youngstown already had Puerto Rican populations of varying sizes, and school officials in all three districts say they are working with community organizations to provide additional support to the incoming population.

Other Big 8 districts have enrolled new Puerto Rican students in much smaller numbers. Columbus, Toledo and Dayton, for example, are reporting less than a dozen new enrollments from the territory each. Akron schools officials say they haven't had a single enrollment.

Ashton Marra covers the Capitol for West Virginia Public Radio and can be heard weekdays on West Virginia Morning, the station’s daily radio news program. Ashton can also be heard Sunday evenings as she brings you state headlines during NPR’s weekend edition of All Things Considered. She joined the news team in October of 2012.