Central New York, Community, Education, Syracuse, Weather

This New Home Has a Familiar Feel

Teachers at Seymour Dual Language Academy are helping new Puerto Rican students and families settle in after fleeing Hurricane Maria. Chris Lucey went down to the school to see how well children have adapted and what challenges they still face.

Video Transcript: Lucey-Pkg-3

Chris Lucey SYRACUSE, NY (NCC News) – When Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico this past October it turned the lives of thousands of Puerto Ricans upside down, including that of Nelson Rolando-Rodriguez.

The eight-year-old had just started the third grade when the storm hit, wiping out his school and taking him out of the classroom until his family resettled in Syracuse months later. That’s when his parents enrolled him in the Dual-Language Academy at Seymour Middle School, and life began to pick up its familiar rhythm once again.

School even became a bit more fun than before.

“At my old school there was always fights,” Rodriguez said. “Everyone was mean and the teachers yelled at us.”

Rodriguez doesn’t have any complaints of the sort about Seymour. In fact, it’s been one of the easier parts of his transition to his new home. He feels as though his homeroom teacher, Jesús Ortiz, has done a great job filling him in on the time he’s missed.

“If I didn’t understand in English, he could help me understand in Spanish.”

Ortiz is Puerto Rican too, and so is Vice Principal Jose Mora. The two, along with other Puerto Rican faculty members, have empathized with and helped familiarize the 25 new families who enrolled their children into the program. Neither Ortiz nor Mora have been back to see the devastation on the island themselves, but both have family members on the island.

“There is not a Puerto Rican anywhere who has not felt the impact of this disaster,” said Mora. The vice principal lost both his father and stepfather in the aftermath of the hurricane; both died of medical complications because they couldn’t get adequate care in time.

“One of the first things I ask is ‘What town are you from?’” said Ortiz. “I’ll say, ‘Oh, I’m from Utuado,’ and the connection is immediately there. Then I’ll say, ‘Give me your phone…’ And I’ll text them on snow days, (and explain) whenever things happen that they don’t understand.”

With his support network in place, Nelson can focus on the most important part of his valuable snow days: finding out what to do.

“I don’t know what I like best,” said Nelson. “I like throwing snowballs and sledding, all of it.”