WINFIELD ? Winfield-Mt. Union students are receiving a cultural education through their school?s partnership with the Luis Munoz Rivera School in San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico. The school was heavily impacted by Hurricane Maria and faculty, staff and community members have all stepped up to sponsor projects at the school.
The idea sprouted shortly after the hurricane hit the island and caused immense devastation. At a staff meeting, personnel approached elementary principal Gabe Wylder, who has family on the island, about funding a project to help his family. ?I was overwhelmed,? he said of the moment. ?It was definitely a very overwhelming experience for me from a very generous staff.?
Wylder wanted the funds to help others as well and decided on the Luiz Munoz Rivera school so the W-MU students could relate to the efforts. ?There were so many different avenues where I thought this could make a difference,? he said. ?Talking with them about (a school) is very tangible for kids to understand. Kids can?t relate to not being able to get dialysis medication. By making it more tangible, it allows kids to empathize more and build a more firm sense of empathy about the situation.?
The fundraising was meant to be an elementary effort, as those are the staff and children Wylder works with the most, but the entire school and community wanted to help as well. W-MU designated one week a month where students brought in quarters, nickels, dimes and pennies to raise money. Local businesses also put out donation jars to help support the effort. ?It was a really nice outpouring,? he said.
Around Christmas, students made cards and well-wishes to be sent along with the $3,025 the school and community raised. Just before Easter, the students received letters back, in Spanish. ?It created a productive struggle,? he said of translating and explaining the notes to students. ?It?s definetly a unique experience that our students wouldn?t otherwise have.?
The funds sent were used to set up a fence around the perimeter of the school which was previously destroyed. The school does not have a playground for their students, so the fence acted as a safety barrier from debris as well as a safe place for students to play during PE and recess.
Wylder had the opportunity to visit the school in June and speak to the principal and staff about their struggles and upcoming challenges. The principal, Yamitza Figueroa, explained the school was being forced to consolidate with other area schools that were being closed and would push their enrollment from 350 to 600 students. Teachers will now have to be mobile and change rooms so the students are constantly in one place. ?It presents unique issues that we don?t face here,? he said.
Before Hurricane Maria, there was chatter on the island of closing underperforming schools. According to Wylder, after the hurricane, schools had to reapply to be opened, have a structural engineer deem the building safe and have approval from the Department of Education. Once this was completed, the schools had to jump another hurdle as they had to be assessed to determine if the school was needed. Over 100 schools were closed, island wide, making consolidation the result.
Because of the hurricane, the schools library has been completely emptied out. For their next step in their partnership, Wylder is hoping they will formulate a plan to restock the library. The staff will vote and discuss this during their staff meeting after school begins. He hopes by extending the school?s resources transcontinental, W-MU students will have a stronger understanding of the world.
?My hope in doing something like that was just to build that empathy and build that global perspective,? he said. Wylder hosted a schoolwide assembly to show the students the location of the school and how strong a hurricane can be. While the Luis Munoz Rivera School gains assistance, Wylder says the W-MU students gain perspective and world-knowledge from their efforts. ?My genuine hope is that my students are broadening their world view and learning about a culture that is different from their own,? he said.