Jun 11, 2021

Communities come first

Since Hurricanes Irma and María struck Puerto  Rico, the island’s nonprofit sector has continuously responded to crisis after crisis. After the hurricanes, a sequence of earthquakes shook the southern parts of Puerto Rico for weeks, and the COVID-19 pandemic ensued thereafter. Nuestra Escuela is not the same organization it was in 2017 or even in March of 2020. It is not news to anyone that the world has changed in unexpected and oftentimes dizzying ways. Come what may, however, our efforts have remained ever focused on ensuring the continuity of our services. Nuestra Escuelas has remained operational and continues to offer its services without interruption. This is possible because Nuestra Escuela has worked on building new ways of sharing, creating virtual work environments, providing access to information technologies to 100% of the students and staff who needed it, and supporting and training our team to work efficiently on virtual platforms. Nuestra Escuela has also undertaken an extraordinary investment of time and resources to successfully adapt its facilities to the prevention and distancing measures established by the CDC and local public health agencies.

 

This year has undoubtedly posed one of the most significant challenges we had to overcome in our 20-year history. Yet we showed up to this crisis with responsibility and a profound sense of duty to our students and the community we serve.  Amid so much uncertainty, we celebrate the capacity of our community to listen to each other, to identify creative ways to respond to emergencies, to confirm again and again that providing quality education alternatives that are sustainable and resilient is possible. This is reflected time and again by each young person who attends their virtual classes and in the smiles of the boys and girls who complete their experiments with their teachers online.  Our prevention and mitigation strategy focused on promoting comprehensive health and safety measured by leveraging our entire biopsychosocial support team, offering prevention material, supporting families and the community with fresh foodstuffs and financial aid, and held virtual yoga, music, theater, and physical exercise classes. 

 

It has been a year of intense activity and work. It’s also been a year that required lots of patience from those who wish to serve their communities closely. Our urban construction projects were largely interrupted by lockdown and physical distancing measures and later by labor shortages in the construction sector in Puerto Rico. Fortunately, we were able to resume our “rebuilding school” project in May 2021. However, works on the first response center with solar energy remain halted because Nuestra Escuela’s top priority is to build additional classrooms and provide more space for physically distanced in-person learning. We hope to be resuming this project between July and August 2021.

*Each person that appears in this report provides complete and total authorization for GlobalGiving to use their image and name. 

 

Jun 5, 2021

The key is to take care of each other

No one could have imagined what happened in March of 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted nearly all aspects of 21st-century life. Among the areas of society most affected by the pandemic, schooling worldwide suffered tremendous shocks. Despite the global health crisis, however, at Nuestra Escuela, we were and continue to be ready to do what we do best: listening to our community and doing everything in our power to guarantee a quality alternative education for our students and families. Through natural disasters, economic turmoil, and public health crises, Nuestra Escuela has organized its community to better understand its needs and find alternatives to address them together. As a community-based organization, we maintain our responsiveness and flexibility thanks to the sustained support of organizations and individuals who trust in Our Mission of Love and understand the commitment that characterizes our efforts to support the education of children, teens, and adults from marginalized communities in Puerto Rico.

 

According to a report recently published by UNICEF, 1 in 7 children worldwide lost a year or more of schooling due to COVID-19 and the lockdown measures that ensued. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the figure becomes even more startling, where 3 out of 5 children in the region interrupted their studies for over a year. Naturally, COVID-19 presented significant obstacles to our community. About half of our students live in rural communities, and an overwhelming majority of them come from low-income families with little to no access to the internet and other digital technologies. Yet, we could not allow these challenges to handicap our services. Aware of the role schools play in children’s development and the importance of maintaining meaningful relationships during times of hardship, Nuestra Escuela moved to galvanize the support of the philanthropic sector and raised over $100,000 to purchase 158 electronic devices for students. This effort allowed Nuestra Escuela to be online and virtually in-session only three business days following government-mandated school closures. By purchasing laptops, tablets, and personal hotspots, Nuestra Escuela gave its students and families the resources needed to attend school and work remotely.

 

Because the effects of the pandemic were varied, our response to the crisis had to be holistic. First, we adapted our teaching and learning model to provide quality alternative education services to students, despite being online. Second, we supported the families of our students and personnel affected by the economic shocks of the pandemic by distributing over 357,840 pounds (162,313 kilograms) of food supplies. To this day, Nuestra Escuela continues to donate groceries to families in need. Third, our biopsychosocial support staff (composed of social workers and psychologists) maintained contact with our students and remained available for those in need of our support. Fourth, we maintained the totality of our personnel on the school’s payroll and were thus able to provide stability to our employees and their families at a time where everything seemed uncertain. Finally, the pandemic did not stop us from holding our yearly graduation ceremony. Although we could not hug each other as always, our students were able to wear their graduation regalia, receive their diplomas, and celebrate this important milestone (at a safe distance, of course).

Parallel to our virtual learning efforts, Nuestra Escuela has leveraged all public and private sources of funding at its disposal to adapt its facilities to an eventual return to in-person schooling. Among our investments, we have installed acrylic dividers in all classrooms and office spaces, rearranged all classrooms to maintain appropriate distance, installed air-purifiers in all air-conditioned areas, developed health and safety protocols for students and personnel, installed disinfecting stations in every room, facilitated employee access to vaccines, and much more. Yes, returning to in-person schooling is important. Still, as we attempt to open our doors to our students, our top priority is to ensure that our community is and feels safe from the virus when at Nuestra Escuela.

 

Our work is not over. We continue to look for ways to ensure student safety when they return to school next term. However, as we look back and reflect on the past year, we cannot help but feel grateful for the support we received from GlobalGiving and so many other organizations and individuals that make our vital work possible. We also feel hopeful, for our close relationship with our communities has allowed us to remain nimble. We will continue to lean on close relationship with those we serve, and we that this closeness will lead our way out of this pandemic and toward a better future. The pandemic is not over, but time and time again, we learn that taking care of each other is key. It always has been.

Feb 10, 2021

Back to (a more resilient) school

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Nuestra Escuela has worked tirelessly to guarantee the safety and wellbeing of our students, their families, and that of Puerto Rico’s most vulnerable communities.

  1. We have managed to continue our educational services with virtually no interruption through Nuestra Escuela Virtual. Our students can connect with their teachers and classmates every day, thus complying as an organization with the highest educational standards that our students deserve and have enjoyed for 19 years. The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged our ability to remain flexible and responsive to our communities’ needs. To do so, we developed a comprehensive response strategy for the continuation of our services. Our multi-pronged approach integrates the following areas: health and safety, socio-emotional support, and increased access to technology. We are delighted with our results: 90% of our enrolled students have continued to attend classes online, and we have maintained a 65% average attendance rate across all of our programs. Ensuring our services’ continuity and providing relief and peace of mind to the families we serve is our greatest reward. 
  2. We have secured the support of Puerto Rico’s philanthropic sector to guarantee our students’ access to technology and connectivity. We have acquired 138 electronic devices with internet access for students and personnel. 
  3. Thanks to GlobalGiving, we have supported Red Comunitaria de Respuesta (Comunity Response Network) in the construction of a Resilience Center in Guánica, Puerto Rico. 
  4. We are proud to have retained 100% of our employees with their complete salaries. 
  5. We assumed an active role in the Task Force Social del Pueblo (People’s Social Task Force), which serves as a mechanism for increased coordination between the government’s and the nonprofit sector’s response to COVID-19. 
  6. Responding to the economic fallout caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve supported our communities in Cagua, Loiza, and Toa Baja by distributing over 10,224 boxes containing food supplies, amounting to 357,840 pounds of fresh food for our communities. Before distributing food, we provided families with money to purchase food at supermarkets. Aware that the vast majority of our families live below the poverty line, it was paramount for our organization to support families with fulfilling their basic needs. We extended these benefits to school personnel facing financial hardship as well. 

This work was made possible thanks to the commitment and resolve of our staff, donors, families, and communities. Because our priority is to safely provide in-person teaching to our students, we have focused our efforts on preparing our sites for eventual reopening. Therefore, we have decided to postpone the construction of our solar-powered dining room to May 2021. We are forever grateful for your continued support!

 **Each person that appears in this report provides complete and total authorization for GlobalGiving to use their image and name. 

 
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