Manatee and Sarasota schools open doors to hurricane-displaced students

Manatee County is among a number of Tampa Bay school districts that are seeing more students from Puerto Rico who were displaced by Hurricane Maria.

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated communities both in the Caribbean and in parts of Florida and now some Bay Area school districts are seeing new students looking for a new home.

“They were fleeing lost their homes nothing left lost everything coming to a new place,” says Elena Garcia, director of Federal Programs and Grants for the Manatee County School District.

Garcia says the school district’s goal is for these students to first feel welcomed.

“Second, safe. It’s important for kids who faced any type of trauma that there’s trust,” says Garcia.

 Twenty-eight students have enrolled in Manatee County Schools since mid-September, 17 due to a natural disaster.   Elena Garcia with the Manatee County School District says 22 of them came from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

“A lot are between 5th and 9th grade. Any kid who moves during a this period has trouble adjusting….kids who faced trauma is a harder time for them,” says Garcia.

Garcia says teachers are looking for signs these students need help beyond the classroom. 

“Losing interest, change in diet in what they’re eating," said Garcia. "Nightmares and flashbacks of the trauma they dealt with.”

It’s their classmates who Garcia say are probably helping these new students get through one day at a time.

“Right now, all the students have more empathy for students who’ve gone through it since we lived underneath the same threat,” she said. 

These new students say Garcia have a lot to teach their classmates. too.

“Probably resilience," said Garcia. "Kids are resilient. They need extra care. Watching these kids face this challenge helping them through it is a lesson for us all.”

 During the storm many students lost important documents such as birth certificates, school records and health records. The state has waived these requirements to make enrollment easier.

 Sarasota is also seeing many hurricane-displaced students, too. The district reports 10 new students from across Florida, 15 from Puerto Rico and 5 from the Virgin Islands.

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