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You are here: Home The Goods SHS Teacher Maggie Favretti Travels To Puerto Rico in the Aftermath of Hurricane Maria
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SHS Teacher Maggie Favretti Travels To Puerto Rico in the Aftermath of Hurricane Maria

favretti2In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, when anyone who could manage to was leaving Puerto Rico, one Scarsdale High School teacher took it upon herself to go the island to help the struggling schools.

SHS Teacher Maggie Favretti was one of four U.S. educators recruited by the School Superintendent Association to accept an invitation from Puerto Rico's Secretary of Education Julia Keleher to fly to Puerto Rico and help to reopen the schools and re-envision the curriculum in the wake of disaster.

Favretti is well known for her innovative City 2.0 curriculum that teaches students to collaborate and use design thinking to confront global and community challenges.

She received the invite just two days before she would have to leave and scrambled to ask colleagues to help to cover her classes while she was gone and to prepare for a trip to an island in crisis. In addition to arranging for her students to be working while she was away she needed to get shots and vaccinations and purchase necessities like batteries, flashlights, solar chargers and toiletries that would not be available.

When she arrived on October 9 she found she would be housed on the ninth floor of a high rise that had no power or water. The simplest daily tasks were a struggle. In order to get water she had to walk down nine flights to a beach where a shower was still running. The island had a shortage of gasoline so the assistant to the Secretary of Education drove the team around in her mother's car as it still had gas in the tank. Without power the traffic lights were out, roads were closed and debris blocked their way. At time, it took 45 minutes to drive a half mile.

Favretti and her colleagues started to work at the Department of Education offices until the power grid crashed leaving most government offices without power or water. For the next few days they worked in seven to eight locations where there were generators, and when those ran out the ended up at the Department of Corrections where hundreds of workers from many government departments were attempting to carry on their work.

Though Favretti's group was brought to Puerto Rico to reopen the schools and rewrite the curriculum, they quickly realized that these were not the right priorities.

Favretti said, "It took a whole day to understand the magnitude of what they were asking us to do and to convince them that it was too much. It took three days to figure out the difference between what they wanted and what they needed – and what they needed and what they could do. What could I do to help the teachers function when they came back?"

The Secretary of Education had asked the teachers and principals to report back to work on October 16 and clean and rebuild schools with the goal of reopening on October 23.

After interviewing teachers, Favretti's team found that many of the teachers' homes were destroyed, flooded or filled with debris. People were exposed to viral infections and there were shortages of food. During their stay, a teacher died of cryptosporidium from tainted water. Teaching materials, books and supplies were gone and the teachers were expected to provide for their classes out of their own funds.

puertorico1On her blog Favretti said, "We learned that teachers are expected to provide EVERYTHING. Typical teachers spend $70 a month on copying toner for their personal printers, buy paper, books, and any other materials for their classrooms, as well as painting it and the outside of the school too, at their own expense. A typical teacher is paid $25,000 per year, and living expenses are quite like New York City (because PR is an island). They have been to their schools, and have been shoveling them out, helping to fix plumbing and wiring, hoping to get generator parts, and in one case, teaching her (and others') students outside. They believe that there will be many schools without walls, water, or power come the 23rd, and do not believe that health and stability inspections will have taken place. There are 1,100 schools on the island."

Favretti and her colleagues determined that the department's first concern should be the health and safety of the students, teachers and buildings. They recommended that principals take a census of who was still available to work – as many teachers and students had left the island – and that the Department of Education do inspections to assess the safety of the buildings before re-opening. They also recommended that social workers be placed at schools to help children through the trauma.

They were able to realize some accomplishments such as working out a timeline for the opening of school and outlining some lessons in design thinking that could be taught without materials. But Favretti and her colleagues ultimately realized that they could accomplish more for the Puerto Rican schools from their desks at home where they had access to their own files and were not spending their time chasing power, water or internet access.

When she returned, Favretti did draft a handbook on design thinking and problem solving that can be used to solve real world problems such as the crisis in Puerto Rico. She has sent it to her colleagues in Puerto Rico and is hopeful that it will be translated into Spanish and used in the schools.

Seeing the crisis firsthand on the island Favretti was struck by the resilience of the teachers who she says "will do anything for the kids." She also noted another positive outcome of the crisis, finding that "people are being nicer to each other."

Encouraging people here in Scarsdale to be nice, Favretti asked everyone to come to a community dinner for Hurricane Relief on Monday November 6 from 5:30- 7:30 pm at the SHS Cafeteria. You can bring a favorite dish and buy a ticket. Proceeds will go to the American Red Cross. Learn more and buy a ticket here

Comments   

+1 #2 Great Event 2017-11-01 08:03
Great article, but the lead is buried. The Nov. 6th event is the key and it looks like the more people who attend, the more she will be able to help. Let's get the word out about the event so people attend.
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+1 #1 M. Eppenstein 2017-10-31 21:19
Maggie, I'm in. I'm hoping for a better federal response, and soon!
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