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Bridgeport Welcomes Puerto Rican Students Fleeing Destruction Of Maria

Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, left, and Schools Supt. Aresta Johnson, center, present 7th-grader Juan Casiano of Puerto Rico with a new backpack and school supplies as he gets ready to attend school in Bridgeport. Photo Credit: Meredith Guinness
Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, right, talks to students Maria Delmar Marrero, left, and brothers Jan and Juan Casiano, center. Photo Credit: Meredith Guinness

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — For two long days Jan and Juan Casiano hunkered down in the relative safety of an inner hallway as Hurricane Maria’s wind and rain battered their family’s home in the city of Bayamón, Puerto Rico.

“It was scary, like, really scary,” said Juan, 12.

Once the hurricane finally passed, they were left to survey the damage.

“We didn’t have water. No electricity. No nothing,” said their aunt Ariadna Correa.

And that’s why the boys, both seventh-graders, have moved to live with relatives in Bridgeport, where they will have vital amenities — as well as the chance to continue their schooling.

Last week, Mayor Joe Ganim, Schools Superintendent Aresta Johnson and other city leaders welcomed the brothers and 17-year-old Maria Delmar Marrero to the city, presenting them with new backpacks and school supplies.

“We’re happy to have you,” the mayor told the kids. “This is a good place for you to be and stay for as long as you have to.”

José Casiano and his wife, Suheily Martinez, said they didn’t have to think twice before opening their Mill Hill Avenue home to their nephews, who arrived last week. The four-bedroom home has plenty of space for the boys and their own three children.

“We are family,” said Casiano.

This week, the boys will begin classes at Luis Muñoz Marín School, which is named for the first governor of Puerto Rico.

The boys lived for a time in San Antonio and have no problem speaking in English or Spanish.

They’ll find themselves right at home in the city’s school system, where students speak 69 different languages, Johnson said.

Marrero was scheduled to attend her first classes at Bassick High School on Friday, said her sister, Iris Lozada, who has welcomed her into her Ellsworth Street home.

The 17-year-old was heading into her senior year at Escuela Gilberto Concepción de Garcia when the hurricane hit.

“She’s hoping it’s temporary,” her sister said of the new living arrangements. “She really wants to go back.”

Lissette Colón, who works with public schools, said city leaders are expecting an influx of Puerto Rican children coming to Bridgeport to live with family and attend schools here. Many simply can’t book flights until the end of October and beyond. Schools in Puerto Rico may be closed for weeks or longer. About one-fifth of Bridgeport residents are of Puerto Rican descent.

Mayoral Aide Alma Maya told the children that she’s leaving Friday to bring back her mother, who lives near San Juan has not seen any rescue workers or supplies since the hurricane. Maya said she has located her aunt, but the family has had no contact with another aunt.

“I just hope we can get back,” she said.

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