Robinson offers support for students affected by tragedy in Puerto Rico
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Since Hurricane Maria hit land on September 20, Puerto Ricans have been fighting to return to a regular, everyday life. But such a horrific event can be challenging to recover from, forcing many residents to create a new beginning and a new type of “everyday life”.
Goelys Velacquec (’18), a Puerto Rican native, is stepping far out of her comfort zone during the relief period. Velacquec moved to Florida after the hurricane hit her home and has been attending Robinson High School for just over a month.
“I came because my school [was affected by] the hurricane, so classes weren’t able to start until January,” Velacquec said. “My mom and my dad decided to send me here to start studying again.”
Velacquec now lives in Tampa, Florida with her father, step-mother, and step-sister. But she still has much of her family, including her birth mother, back home in Puerto Rico, where the aftermath of the storm is ever present.
“[The hurricane] was such a horrible experience,” Velacquec said. “When I came out of my house two days later, everything was ruined.”
Although this transition may be difficult for her, Velacquec has been able to find a safe community at Robinson.
Eva Capo, a counselor at Robinson and a Puerto Rican native, works with Ana Alonso, a bilingual district school psychologist, to run a support group for students who are coming from the tragedy-strucken island and those who have been seriously affected by it.
“[This group] is a way for them to learn the school, get to know students, and get to know new friends here,” Capo said.
With the exception of a few classes, the students are immersed in the regular school schedule at Robinson. Some are transfer students while others are from Florida and have been enrolled in either the IB or traditional courses for a number of years.
Capo meets with the students twice a month and held their third session on Friday, Nov. 17, where they learned new reading techniques and made holiday cards to send to their families in Puerto Rico.
“…We give each other support,” Velacquec said about the group. “If were are having a home-sick situation, they will always be there for you to tell you, ‘It’s OK, you can get through this.'”
Although the advisors plan each meeting with activities and lessons, they certainly allow the students to use the opportunity in whatever ways they may need.
“I can see that they’re really interacting with each other, which is the whole purpose of this group,” Alonso said. “Hopefully, outside of this group now, they all know each other… and have each other for support. It’s just another familiar face that’s going through the same thing.”
For students like Velacquaec who are new to Florida, the support group provides a familiar sense of family in an unfamiliar place.
Velacquec will continue to participate in these meetings for the remainder of her senior year. Upon graduation, Velacquec plans on attending Hillsborough Community College to study hospitality and tourism with an interest in a career theme park management. And with a positive high school experience at Robinson, Velacquec will be sure to succeed.