High schoolers traveling to rebuild Puerto Rican playground

Posted at 4:30 AM, Apr 04, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-04 06:56:00-04

When the clouds cleared after Hurricane Maria, sun shone through what had once been walls and windows at Escuela Pepita Garriga -- now chunks of rubble and a prickly carpeting of shattered glass. The principal's office was gone; the playground on which its K-8 students enjoyed recess was unusable. A skeletal metal frame slumped beyond torn chainlink fences outside.

And the power was off. In the months since, it's stayed off, forcing the school to hold classes only from 8 a.m. to noon.

Jessica Isaacs, a teacher in Northern Kentucky, saw it firsthand in December when she visited her cousin, who teaches at Pepita Garriga. She knew she had to do something to help -- and so did her students.

"We raised money, and we did a lot of fundraising and we packed stuff," junior Mikhyah Hudson said. 

She, her classmates and two teachers raised over $1,000 so they could travel to Puerto Rico for four days to rebuild Pepita Garriga's playground. They will also donate school supplies, Hudson said. 

It'll be her first trip, she added, not just out of the county but ever. Why take such a drastic step?

"There were a whole bunch of hurricanes everywhere else, and it felt like everyone was focused more on the one in Texas or the one in Florida, and no one was really focused on the one in Puerto Rico," she said. "We wanted to help them because we felt they needed the most help."

Isaacs said she believed the island's still-desperate situation was fading from public consciousness, despite the fact that many Puerto Ricans still lack reliable access to basic amenities. Large groups are abandoning the island altogether, convinced it will be easier to live in the mainland United States than attempt to salvage their old existences.

"I think it's important that somebody helps," Isaacs said. "There are a lot of people there who are still without power, still without supplies, still without jobs, and they won't be able to go and get things they need without jobs."

Although the trip and the replacement playground equipment are already funded, Isaacs and Hudson said they hoped additional donations would allow them to provide even more help to the students and staff at Pepita Garriga.

"(We're) helping out the students," junior Jacob Griffin said. "Building up the place and knowing that we're helping them and helping them get their school back."

Anyone wishing to donate to the group's trip can do so here.