Metro

Students, newly arrived from Puerto Rico after Maria, start over in Boston schools

Erick Torres and sister Jerielis posed for a photo at their grandmother’s Jamaica Plain apartment. Their home in Puerto Rico was ruined.
Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
Erick Torres and sister Jerielis posed for a photo at their grandmother’s Jamaica Plain apartment. Their home in Puerto Rico was ruined.

The teens were home when their roof caved in.

Jerielis Torres, 16, and her brother Erick Joel Torres, 17, could not sleep that night. Hurricane Maria’s winds left the land they love bare, while floodwaters washed away the life they knew in the Puerto Rican city of Manati.

The days since have been constant upheaval for the teens, living part of the time in their aunt’s home, because it has a generator, and the rest in their own destroyed home.

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Their parents were careful to ration food, fuel, and water, but eventually the family had to make a choice. Jerielis and Erick flew to Boston on Saturday to live with their grandmother in Jamaica Plain for the foreseeable future. Their school in Puerto Rico, still without power and water, hasn’t reopened yet.

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By Monday morning, the siblings were waiting at a Boston Public Schools Welcome Center in Roxbury, where a pop-up center has opened to register children for school and assist families displaced after hurricanes tore though Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and elsewhere.

These centers connect new arrivals with organizations that provide housing, health care, food, and clothing. School officials have also launched a BPS Cares website to provide access to resources.

“Right now, if someone were to ask me if I wanted to stay here, I’d say yes,” Jerielis said in Spanish. “Because there’s nothing left. The universities aren’t open. The schools are closed. Without food or water, what are we going to do there?”

Erick will be a high school senior; Jerielis, a junior. As of this week, BPS has enrolled 42 families from Puerto Rico, according to Monica Roberts, assistant superintendent of engagement.

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“What we’ve tried to do is really partner strongly with community organizations that might be the first point of contact,” Roberts said. “We’re ready to welcome them.”

The Torreses said their mother was supposed to come to Boston, too. But the day before they were scheduled to leave Puerto Rico, she realized she had to stay behind. Their father, a police officer, is still working on the island.

The teens each salvaged one bag of clothing. Nearly everything else was lost in the rubble.

“The change of leaving our parents there and us living here, it’s not easy,” Jerielis said. “My dad said this isn’t life. He’s right. This isn’t life, living apart like this.”

Jerielis Torres played with her grandmother’s dog, Susie, in the room she’s using at her grandmother’s apartment in Jamaica Plain.
Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
Jerielis Torres played with her grandmother’s dog, Susie, in the room she’s using at her grandmother’s apartment in Jamaica Plain.

School department staffers have reached out to families in the school system and requested to be notified if they have relatives relocating from Puerto Rico.

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During enrollment, families will be given a list of school options and the programs offered at each one. Administrators know that some families will be arriving with little or no paperwork, but they say they are detemined to make the process as streamlined as possible.

“We expect some families will be coming in without documentation and so we will go ahead and enroll them anyway,” Roberts said. “Obviously, they’re not going to be able to prove residency right away because they won’t have anything in their name so we’re going to waive all of those requirements so we can make sure that they’re getting in.”

Brenda Rivera Vargas, 42, sat with her sisters in the same BPS Welcome Center as the Torres siblings. The three women spoke about the conditions in Puerto Rico.

“There are a lot of people far worse off than us,” Rivera Vargas said in Spanish. “When I tell you there are people that have not eaten, they literally have no food.”

One sister traveled to Boston Oct. 17, the other on Oct. 18. Both are staying with their oldest sister, who lives in West Roxbury. Rivera Vargas brought her 15-year-old daughter with her to the mainland.

Her husband and oldest daughter remained in Puerto Rico.

She hopes to return to the island in a few months.

“It’s incredibly difficult,” Rivera Vargas said. “We have the responsibility of making sure our children aren’t too affected by this. They’re really scared. They can’t see us scared, too.”

Cristela Guerra can be reached at cristela.guerra@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @CristelaGuerra.