Community leaders and teachers in Loíza and Vieques, fight against inequality so that students from disadvantaged families do not fall behind or miss the school semester due to the lack of access to technological tools in the midst of distance education imposed by the pandemic of the COVID-19.
In Loíza, the Community Board of Barrio Tocones, has made unsuccessful efforts for the government to hand over one of the vacant structures in the community to assist with tutorials and activities to the girls and boys of the community, whose families do not have economic resources.
In the absence of a place with a roof, community leaders began to gather children and young people under a lush flamboyant tree, but had to interrupt the work due to the constant rains.
“A month ago we started to gather the children under a flamboyant, in the ball park, but they were dressed and upset because it started to rain and now we have no where to meet,” Alicia Carrasquillo Ortiz told Primera Hora, president of the community union.
“There are some abandoned government houses and we have tried to communicate by all means so that they would repair some of them and reunite the children. We sent a letter to the Secretary of Housing, Luis Fernández Trinchet, but we have not had a response, “he said.
He also said that they sent the communication to the district representative, Ángel Bulerín Ramos and did not obtain results.
“We are in the best position to help children and youth and those mothers who need support. We knock on doors and nothing. Under the pole we met from 3:00 to 5:00 in the afternoon. The kids were very interested. They called us ‘misis’ and they respected us a lot, “said Carrasquillo Ortiz with a broken voice.
He said that they are children of both sexes, mostly from elementary school, whose families are of very low income and do not have access to the internet.
“We spent two consecutive weeks attending to them, but the rains are constant. If my house had a canopy, I would take them with me. There are people who have offered us desks and other things, but where am I going to put them? What we need is a place ”, claimed the community leader.
He said that he bought a small stove that “I paid little by little” to have “a hot snack” for them, since they received food donated by people and non-profit institutions.
“Sometimes they ride by my house and say, ‘Misis, when are we going to start?’” Added Carrasquillo Ortiz.
He explained that among the 12 members of the community board they divided to tutor the children on different subjects, including a recreational leader who gave them sports classes. “Many of us try to be teachers. One gave them mathematics and the other science, which explained what the birth of a plant was like. We tried to cover all the subjects so that they did not fall behind, ”he described.
“What we need is a place for us to help these children,” added Carrasquillo Ortiz.
No free wifi
In the island municipality of Vieques, teachers like Elda Guadalupe, bite the bullet, so that students, many with very limited access to technology and others without any, can complete their homework.
“Even if the computers of the Department arrive, they will not solve anything if the child does not have access to the Internet,” said Guadalupe.
The educator narrated that in her seventh grade class, of the 45 students enrolled, only five have told her that they have access to the Teams virtual platform, as she stressed that on the island municipality the telephone signal after Hurricane María is very weak. To reach the other students, try to record the class and send them by email to some, and by WhatsApp, to others.
She also said that she and the other teachers photocopy the assignments and the students pick them up “type trolley”.
“So far I make what are small videos from 30 seconds to two minutes, the longest which is the maximum I can send on WhatsApp. I myself am often without internet service, ”said the seventh and eighth grade teacher at the September 20 middle school.
“I have not been able to meet with 100 percent of my seventh grade students and guardians,” he said, adding that, with the eighth-grade group of 66 students, he has managed to communicate “either by WhatsApp or by phone.”
“I think there are alternatives to not miss the semester because it would be very sad. We know that there are not many alternatives because if we cannot be in school what we have left is this, but it is bad planning because there was time to prepare, “he said.
He said they have not received computers from the Department of Education, but they received 850 “reused, but in good condition,” donated by a Chicago foundation.
In Vieques, he said that the private sector with purchasing power can put up a “home spot” for a few months so that low-income students can connect. He added that the public square has not had a free Wi-Fi connection for several years.
“Here most of the students don’t have internet access. Many access through their parents’ phones, but they have to read many pages and not everyone has unlimited access, ”said Guadalupe.
“I have a situation in my living room of a mother with six children and a single telephone. That is unsustainable, ”said the middle school teacher on September 20.
He also said that, in other cases, the one who has a cell phone is the father, who works and the student has to wait for his father to come home, to be able to do his homework.
Guadalupe, who is a municipal legislator for the Partido del Pueblo Trabajador (PPT), said that she raised the situation with the Vieques Municipal Assembly and announced that she will send a letter to Mayor Víctor Emeric, through the Education Commission, so that the municipality consider restoring Wi-Fi in the public square and “a few more.” so students can connect.
He said that community groups also carry out negotiations for these purposes with the private sector.
“Since Hurricane María, the telephony in Vieques has not been the same. In my school the phone is not working and parents have to contact the cell phones of teachers and support staff. There is no official telephone number, ”she explained.