CHICAGO — Nearly 200 young people who left Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria decimated the island are starting school in Chicago. The goal was to get kids into school as quickly as possible so they wouldn’t lose ground.
Miguel Huertas’ wife Luz and their 17-year-old daughter Emily just came from Puerto Rico to join him. Their hometown still has no electricity or water and no school. Emily will start at Clemente High School on Tuesday.
Huerta works for Clemente’s Safe Passage program so this couldn’t have worked out better.
Maria Ruiz just got to Chicago Thursday from Puerto Rico. Getting her sons, ages 7 and 9, in school is a top priority for her.
She said once all the paperwork is in and forms are filled out, they’ll be enrolled. They will probably start school Tuesday or Wednesday.
Ruiz said they are eager to get started. They even got a warm welcome from the mayor.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel visited Clemente on his way to a press conference at the Humboldt Park community center.
“Young men and women have already enrolled in Clemente High School,” the mayor said. “That’s happening in elementary throughout the city and community colleges to ensure that seamless transition.”
The community center doubles as a Hurricane Maria relief hub that’s one stop shopping for Puerto Ricans who just arrived in Chicago. They can get everything from housing, clothing, food, a place to live and sign up their kids for school.
“We can connect with the individual schools. We also waive fees. Waive fees, provide them with uniforms and supplies health screening, get them in the classroom asap without any hurdles,” Forrest Claypool, CPS CEO, said.
Because surviving a hurricane, leaving everything you own and moving to a strange, new city can be daunting.
“I love this city. This is a nice city,” Huerta said.
That’s what Mayor Emanuel and the city wanted—to make people feel welcome for as long as they stay here.