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How Educators Can Support Students in Puerto Rico

A teacher teaching in front of her students

As you undoubtedly already know, Puerto Rico was struck by a powerful Category 5 hurricane on September 20, 2017. Students came to class talking about Hurricane Maria, worried about all the people without power and drinkable water. Since Hurricane Maria, about 139,000 Puerto Ricans have arrived to Florida, while the island struggles with a lack of basic necessities. Now, it’s as important as ever that we center the experiences of Puerto Rican Americans in our classrooms. 

For educators whose hearts are with Puerto Rico right now, and who are unsure of what next steps you can take, here are some ideas from GLSEN’s National Student Council:

Learn 

  • Read articles such as How to Help Puerto Rico Right Now and After Hurricane Maria, Mental Health Specialist see toll among U.S. Puerto Ricans to learn more about how you can help and the continuing effects of the disaster.
  • Follow Puerto Rico’s LGBT Center, which is providing updates on how to best assist queer people in need. The group is active on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Check in with Puerto Rican members of your school/community to see if they or their families may need support directly. Listen with empathy as they share what they are going through, find out what they need, and if you are able to, support them in getting their needs met. 

Teach

  • Talk about Puerto Rico with your students (heritage, geography, culture) and the natural disaster.
  • Share with your students Princess Nokia’s fundraising video, Pancho Guillermo Cordova’s exclusive tote and T-shirt, and Rodríguez Besosa’s sustainable food proposal. See if your students can find other Puerto Rican artists and activists who are using their power to raise awareness and support.
  • Incorporate into your curriculum this lesson by Teaching Tolerance: How to Talk about Puerto Rico.
  • Teach your students about the history of Puerto Rico and to recognize the colonization of the land, which has influenced the lack of U.S. governmental response to the disaster. Try these lessons from Share My Lesson: American’s Involvement in Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico: What is the role of the federal government after a disaster? 
  • Connect to your school’s affinity groups (Diversity Club, Hispanic Students Association, GSA, etc.) to organize an event that unifies your school’s efforts and gives more support for this cause.

Act

  • Have your students write a letter to and call your Congress person to ask them to donate to relief efforts for Puerto Rico.
  • Organize a school assembly and/or a presentation for family members to show solidarity with students, families, and educators in Puerto Rico and to call attention to your fundraiser.

Donate

  • Create a fundraiser or donate directly to one of the organizations below. A fundraiser could include crafting safety pins with beads in the colors of the Puerto Rican flag, holding coin drop offs at your school, creating school-supply care packages, or hosting a sliding-scale queer movie night. Here are some organizations and causes to donate to:
    • The Teachers Federation of Puerto Rico (FMPR), which is accepting donations “in order to provide people in need the poor communities, including our colleagues and the families of our students that have lost everything.”
    • Trans & Queer Boricuas, which “provides direct cash assistance to trans and queer Boricuas whose lives, homes and/or property have been impacted by Hurricane Maria.”
    • Centro Comunitario LGBTT de Puerto Rico, which is accepting supplies, such as “batteries, flashlights, a generator for the Center, non-perishable food, other hard-to-come-by essentials for community members, and school supplies.”

Centro Comunitario LGBTT de Puerto Rico
Attn: Cecilia La Luz
P.O. Box 9501
San Juan, PR 00908

For those of you who are Puerto Rican and have family on the island or in neighboring islands impacted by this natural disaster, know that you are doing all that you can in getting by each day, and lean on your allies and advocates right now. Educators have always mastered putting their students first, and responding to their needs, especially in times of crisis. Thank you for all that you continue to do!

Marisa Matias, Sarah Bunn, and Mari Contreras are members of GLSEN’s National Student Council. Becca Mui is GLSEN’s Education Manager.