WATERBURY, Conn. (WTNH) — Enrique Espinoza says he’s proud of the city where he now lives. Waterbury is welcoming families who fled from hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico. Enrique is from there and still has family living there. He says they’re okay after Hurricane Maria destroyed many homes in Puerto Rico and left lives in shambles.
It’s hard for him to even think about it.
“I cry,” he said. “I feel really, really bad because that’s my place, that’s my country, that’s my people.”
He says he is grateful that Waterbury Public Schools have taken in the first 58 kids from Puerto Rico whose families chose to seek shelter and safety with friends and family in The Brass City. Roxanne Augelli is the new person hired to make sure the transition is a smooth one for the kids.
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“You’re heart sick for any child who has to wake up to find everything they’ve ever had destroyed or gone,” she said. “Let alone live through the hurricane.”
Roxanne says that’s why the school district won’t just be focusing on learning in the classroom with the kids.
“For this particular group of children coming into the schools, it’s a little more daunting because of the trauma issues that have to be met,” she said. “The good is that the district is fully aware of their social and emotional needs. We have tremendous social workers, we have guidance counselors, we have a special ed supervisor to make sure if there are learning needs those needs will be met.”
Roxanne says her role is to also be there for the students’ families and to coordinate with various city agencies whatever help the families from Puerto Rico would need here.
“And that’s my role — to tray and coordinate all of our services so we can put them on the right path to success in Waterbury,” she said.
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58 kids are here now, hundreds of others could be on the way.
What’s happening here gives Enrique hope for the future.
“Puerto Rico will get better, things will get better,” he said. “Maybe in a year or two. It will get better.”
The effort by Waterbury Public Schools to help the kids continue their learning and to make them feel welcome and safe might be signs that things may start to feel better sooner than that.