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Boys And Girls Clubs President Ramos: Puerto Rico Had An Education ‘Storm’ Before Maria

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico—As an after-school organization that provides supplemental education services to 15,000 mostly impoverished youths, Boys and Girls Clubs of Puerto Rico found itself in the crosshairs of Hurricane Maria. “Before the storm, we already had a storm in the education sector, so with the storm it gets more complicated,” said President Olga Ramos in an update to attendees of a special session at Beet Retreat 2018.

“We kind of fill the gap that the education system leaves in Puerto Rico,” Ramos explained in a one-on-one discussion with Phil Cowdell, formerly Global President of Client Services at GroupM.

In Puerto Rico, nine out of 10 schools “are failing schools” based on standardized tests, according to Ramos. Add to this some “crazy stats” cited by Cowdell: Maria damaged 82% of the island’s homes, 42% of the population had daily food shortages and 44% of children have a registered mental health impact from the storm.

“That’s pretty cataclysmic and we’re talking about this is part of the United States of America,” said Cowdell.

The bottom line education-wise was that children in Puerto Rico missed a half a year of schooling in a system already burdened by systemic failure.

“In Puerto Rico, we tend to be short minded, so we forget really quick, and we will say that we reopened schools six months after and that we passed our students. We pass them,” said Ramos. “How do you insert those kids in the formal economy later on, ten years from now?”

In the aftermath of Maria, her organization reframed its services to include things like yoga and mindfulness “so we can try to help the country doing the job they should have done with the storm.”

Having been involved early on in emergency relief efforts, Cowdell recalled that just over a month after Maria, “the far end of the island hadn’t seen milk for six weeks.” At a Costco store, “there were people there buying flat screen TV’s because they live on Ashford Avenue in the downtown part of San Juan.”

His point was that when the storm first made land, “it was a very democratic storm, it impacted everybody. It became very economic the week, the month and then the period after it. And what we see now is an economic impact.”

This video was produced in San Juan, Puerto Rico at the Beet.TV executive retreat. Please find more videos from the series on this page. The Beet Retreat was presented by NCC along with Amobee, Dish Media, Oath and Google.