Since Hurricanes Irma and Maria ravaged Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in September, the Worcester State University community and the state’s Department of Higher Education have been working hard to ensure that those who were in school when disaster struck are able to continue their studies here.
Student leaders stepped into action to raise funds for Puerto Rico relief , meeting their goal to raise $5,000, while the Division of Enrollment Management, the Intensive English Language Institute , and the Latino Education Institute  are bringing resources to bear to assist evacuees, either directly or via the city of Worcester.
“It’s not surprising to me that our students and staff have immediately answered the call to assist anyone who has been displaced by the hurricanes,” said WSU President Barry Maloney. “We expect people, always, to do their jobs, yet so many are going above and beyond so that Worcester State can put the welcome mat out for evacuees.”
Evacuees expressing an interest in enrolling at Worcester State will encounter a “case management” approach to their inquiry, said Vice President for Enrollment Management Ryan Forsythe, Ed.D. “We do not employ case management strategies for our enrollment processes normally so this is a new option for these students.”
Nine students have shown interest so far. Forsythe expects that the recent action by the Massachusetts Board of Education , extending in-state tuition rates for Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands evacuees, will help ensure that at least some of those who enquired are able to enroll.
Under the case management model, not only are these prospective students told how to apply, but they also may be directed to the city of Worcester’s resources for evacuees as well as informed of resources WSU can bring to bear, such as the courses that the Intensive English Language Institute can offer.
IELI will be providing three full tuition waivers to Puerto Rican evacuees and six partial tuition waivers. Awardees will be chosen at random on January 4, 2018, so that grantees can participate in the spring 2018 semester. They will be able to attend formal academic English classes for 20 hours a week.
IELI is also serving on the city of Worcester’s workforce task force coordinating efforts to help newly arrived hurricane evacuees find employment and also sign up for basic needs, and will be participating in a career fair on December 27 to introduce evacuees to employment opportunities and English as a Second Language opportunities.
Mary Jo Marion, WSU’s assistant vice president for urban affairs and LEI executive director, is co-chairing an education subcommittee that the city of Worcester has established through Mayor Joseph Petty’s office. With co-chair Kate Kerr, chief of staff to Worcester Public Schools Superintendent Maureen Binienda, the group is gathering feedback from the community and professionals in order to make recommendations to the state for rules and/or regulatory changes, and they intend to pursue state funding so Worcester can assist evacuees as appropriate.
The city views LEI as a key component in ensuring evacuees can transition well, according to Marion. Among the services LEI is offering are:
- A free adult ESL course for hurricane evacuees is being offered as a special module of LEI’s Club Educacion Adult ESL program, which is funded by the United Way of Central Massachusetts. The course will be taught by a certified ESL instructor, and classes will run from the week of January 7 through the week of March 4. To register, either email or call Josephine Falero at 508-424-2590 or email registration form to firstname.lastname@example.org .
- LEI is also assisting the Family Academy, which will provide workshops on navigating the Worcester Public Schools and self-care/healing on January 27 from 10 a.m. to noon at the Main South YMCA for newcomer families in partnership with Friendly House. For more information, contact Carmen Rosado at 509-929-8350. Rosado is also the contact to learn more about tutoring and academic support for WPS K-12 students, which LEI is also assisting with.
The city of Worcester reports that Worcester County had been home to about 45,000 residents of Puerto Rican descent before the hurricane hit and has since seen an influx of families relocating here. As of December 1, 193 students from Puerto Rico and 25 from the U.S. Virgin Islands were newly enrolled in the K-12 schools.