Thousands of Puerto Rican families have fled to the mainland United States in the wake of hurricanes Maria and Irma. Tens of thousands more are expected to follow suit in the coming year.
One Catholic academy is poised to help those families find a sense of community in Williamsburg, and ease the transition for their school-age children.
Queen of the Rosary Catholic Academy is offering a significantly reduced tuition rate for any school children displaced from their homes in Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands due to the recent hurricanes.
“The idea is that we want to give these families a home here at Queen of the Rosary,” said James Anthony Daino, principal. “This community is mostly Hispanic and we have families with roots in Puerto Rico. This really touched home for us.”
Puerto Rico has been in the prayers of the academy community every day, he said, and families gave donations of water and food for the people of Puerto Rico and Mexico in a recent supply drive organized by the Williamsburg Sports League.
The decision to offer the tuition discount came from the academy’s board of directors, which governs the school.
“Looking at the devastation (on the news), we knew that people had to be relocating and New York was a likely spot where families would be settling,” said Mark Moss, board chairman.
Recognizing that these families have lost so much already, especially the routine of their normal lives, the board members decided that, as a Catholic academy, they had to take a step to help alleviate any further suffering for families, especially children, that settle locally.
Board members were particularly motivated by their concern for children who attended Catholic schools back home and only know that kind of environment.
For one student displaced by the hurricanes, the board set tuition for this school year at $750, which amounts to a $3,600 discount from the normal rate of $4,350.
Larger families benefit even further with a tuition fee of $1,450 for two children, and $2,000 for three siblings – a savings of $4,800 and $5,350, respectively.
“If it (tuition reduction) wasn’t extremely reasonable it wasn’t going to be effective,” Moss said, explaining the rates. “We had to be bold and generous to have a real impact.”
The initiative was announced last month, but no applicants have come forward yet. Daino noted that any interested families must show some form of proof that they have been displaced by the hurricanes.
“It is a financial sacrifice” for the school, Daino said, “but we wouldn’t be a Catholic school if we weren’t willing to make sacrifices for others.”
The board plans to offset any financial impact this program has on the academy through fundraising. The goal is to allocate additional monies raised toward aiding displaced families with material needs and tuition in the coming year.
The Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College estimates that 114,000 to 213,000 residents of Puerto Rico will leave the island and move to the U.S. mainland over the next year as a result of the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria.
New York ranks fourth in the list of states expected to receive migrants as part of the post-Maria exodus, since the Big Apple is already home to more than a million of the 5.5 million Puerto Ricans living stateside.
“Hopefully, we’re able to help some children,” Moss said. “We’re just trying to do our part.”