Photo Xavier García

Instituto Nueva Escuela ( the New School Institute) is a nonprofit organization that aims to transform Puerto Rico's public school system through the Montessori teaching method. The number of INE schools has been growing over its 17 years of existence to now include 49 public Montessori schools in 27 municipalities around the island, serving students from 0 to 18 years of age, including special education students. The participation of the family in the child's education is an integral part of the child's development. "With every child that comes, we enroll the family," states INE's website.

INE schools are often located in impoverished communities, including public housing projects. INE boasts a 0% school dropout rate, 0% violent incidents, 0% drug-related incidents, and a 16% increase in enrollment over the past 3 years; all of the schools have waitlists. Its successes have attracted philanthropic support from local foundations that have supported INE’s growth over the years.

While the damage caused by Hurricane Maria to most of INE's schools was relatively small, the surrounding communities were devastated, particularly the mountain and coastal areas of Barranquitas, Aibonito, Naranjito, Humacao, and Patillas, and the island municipality of Vieques. Despite this fact, communities came together to clear debris from the schools, empty the floodwater, clean and repaint the facilities so that they could reopen as soon as possible. INE worked with the faculty and staff of each school on community relief projects, setting up collection centers for basic necessity items and organizing brigades that would distribute these around the communities. MIT and the University of Puerto Rico's Architecture School are collaborating to bring solar power to several INE facilities and to build new homes at a number of the municipalities most affected by the hurricane. Members of the community will be involved, allowing them to acquire new skills, such as the installation of solar power systems, with the aim of creating self-sufficient communities.

INE received operating support from the FORWARD Puerto Rico Fund that enabled them to reestablish their operations. Others donated generators and cisterns, allowing them to meet the Department of Education's requirements of having access to power and water in order to reopen after the storm. While the vast majority of public schools on the island remained closed until early 2018, about 90% of INE's schools reopened before December.

"We continue to use the round table method, and community participation. We give priority to recognizing and serving the community's agenda. The door is always open, the school is a community center. It can serve as a base of support, but also to plan. To plan for happiness, to become free from dependence, to solve things collectively," points out Ana Maria Garcia Blanco, the executive director of INE.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, public school enrolment in Puerto Rico has decreased by 27,000 and Puerto Rico’s finances are in a precarious state. The Department of Education has announced  that over 300 public schools will close during the summer of 2018, including some INE schools. The Department of Education is aiming to convert INE public schools into charter schools, a proposal that was rejected by Garcia Blanco and which has raised concerned among the INE school directors.



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