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RCSD, local families gearing up for more displaced students and relatives

(Provided photo)

Rochester, N.Y. (13WHAM) - According to the Rochester City School District, 84 of its newest students are from hurricane-ravaged islands in the Caribbean. 72 of those students are from Puerto Rico alone, and more students from the island are set to enroll in the RCSD.

The Gonzalez family on Rochester's northeast side already has four people living in a small home, as four family members from Puerto Rico are set to arrive any day.

"They were supposed to get here yesterday, but the airport canceled the flight," said Myrna Gonzalez.

Three of the four family members coming from Puerto Rico to live with Myrna are school-aged (12, 14, and 15 years old), and they're among thousands fleeing to the U.S. after the island was pummeled by Hurricane Maria. Myrna says she has been in contact with RCSD to get them enrolled soon after they arrive in Rochester.

She says so much of the island remains without electricity that she's been unable to speak to most of her family there.

"I can imagine they're not happy," Myrna said when asked about the incoming students. "They lose their stuff, they don't get to have their friends. They are teenagers, it's not like coming with a 2-3 year that can adjust to it fast; we're talking about teenagers."

"We requested (RCSD) have counselors that speak Spanish because these kids come with a lot traumas," said Gonzalez.

Dr. Ray Giamartino, the Chief Accountability Officer with the RCSD, says the district plans to accommodate students affected by natural disasters. But when dealing with students who have lost as much as many have in nations like Puerto Rico, the school has to do more to prepare by adding desks and textbooks to each classroom.

"Those students are assessed and a determination is made as to their language proficiency," said Dr. Giamartino. "We then assign those students to schools and programs aligned specifically with their academic and social and emotional needs."

It's a process especially critical when so many of the students have been forced to leave home with few, if any, of their belongings or family members.

"Our students might be coming in with post-traumatic stress, and it's incumbent upon us as a system and community in meeting their needs holistically," said Dr. Giamartino.

Dr. Giamartino says the district is working with several organizations to gather winter clothing, and even housing, for refugee students and their families. It's not yet clear how many more students and families will be arriving in Rochester from hurricane-torn nations.

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