Norwich Schools Welcome Students From Puerto Rico - NBC Connecticut

Norwich Schools Welcome Students From Puerto Rico

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    Norwich Public Schools are preparing to take in students from Puerto Rico where schools are still shut down in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria's destruction.

    (Published Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017)

    Norwich Public Schools are preparing to take in students from Puerto Rico where schools are still shut down in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria's destruction.  

    School officials said getting those students to Connecticut is a challenge.

    "He was looking outside, there was tons of flooding downstairs, and there was water coming in through the windows," Kristen Talley, a teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) teacher at Norwich Public Schools, said. 

    As Maria ripped through San Juan, Talley’s fiance’s son feared for his life.

    A pole fell on Jorge Torres Gomez's mom’s car, so they had no transportation, according to Talley. Their home was looted before they got back to it. There was no electricity, no running water and Torres Gomez contracted conjunctivitis.

    "For a 16-year-old to be that upset, it was pretty scary," Talley said.

    She and her fiancé tried to get Torres Gomez a flight to Connecticut. His Sept. 26 flight was canceled and the next flight that was supposed to come in on Oct. 3 was also canceled. 

    "To have to call him when he was counting on it to say, 'No, you’re not coming yet'," Talley said. "For him to say, like, 'There’s nothing to do. I’m taking a bath in a bucket. I have no clean clothes.'"

    Talley’s plan is to get Torres Gomez to Norwich Free Academy for his sophomore year.

    Norwich Public Schools is opening its doors to any students impacted by the hurricanes and already is processing the registration for five students. Staff is talking with families from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

    "Budget is always a concern, but regardless of what the budget is, these students belong to us. And they are ours, so we will give them what it is that they need," said Sheila Osko, director of language and translation services for Norwich Public Schools.

    Sometimes that means staff will pull from their own pockets, Osko said. Students are guaranteed free or reduced meals if needed, a uniform, among other services and tuition to Norwich Free Academy. They’ll also have staff on site to help students cope with the trauma they experienced. Staff will also pair them up with a student who speaks their language.

    "Most of all, we love our children," Osko said.

    In addition to Norwich, Groton schools are also preparing to take in new students from hurricane-impacted areas. So far they have one from Saint Martin and others from Puerto Rico.

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