Organización Pro Ambiente Sustentable (OPAS) commits to expanding upon its current Eco-Schools Program and work after Hurricane Maria by creating a Resilient Eco-Schools pilot program. This includes developing a new Eco-Schools curriculum with a focus on resilience and bringing it to ten schools across Puerto Rico. In this curriculum, one teacher and two students at each school will participate in a series of trainings to strengthen the school’s role as a community hub for essential services in the event of future natural disasters.
The new curriculum will cover resiliency themes, including water (cisterns, water filters, rain harvest system), energy (solar generators, lamps, lanterns and solar chargers), food safety (organic seeds, materials to plant, banks for sowing and moving gardens, non-perishable foods), and humanitarian aid (first aid kit and medicine).
Interested schools will apply to participate, and create an environmental committee comprised of students and school personnel to focus on emergency management, disaster response, and climate resilience. For selected schools, one teacher and two students on the environmental committee will receive further training on the impact of climate change in Puerto Rico and hurricane preparedness, using the new Eco-Schools curriculum.
OPAS will oversee the development of the trainings and an accompanying training manual, which will be tailored for teachers and students respectively. Upon completion of the training, and with the mentorship of the newly trained teacher in their school, the two students from each school’s environmental committee will form teams to conduct an evaluation and audit of the school campus to identify the school’s preparedness needs and vulnerabilities. Students will then identify potential projects that can address the audit findings. This may include supporting the installation of resilient infrastructure (e.g. solar panels) for the school. Through this commitment, both students and teachers will receive ongoing guidance to become a Resilient Eco-School.
June – September 2019: Application period for schools; Interested schools must create an environmental committee of students and school personnel by end of September; OPAS conducts ongoing outreach to schools regarding the program and the application process.
July 2019: Teacher and student training subcontractors will be selected.
September 2019: Ten schools are selected for the program; Teachers will nominate two students per school for the program.
October 2019: Students are chosen and onboarded to school’s environmental committee.
September 2019 – April 2020: Ten teachers, at least one per school, will receive five trainings; In this training they will receive information on how to equip students with an understanding of the impact of climate change and resiliency in Puerto Rico, as well as how to prepare for hurricanes and other disasters. Teachers will also learn how to strengthen this understanding in the classroom so that students can apply this understanding to their school assessment and audit.
October 2019 – April 2020: Ongoing student training; By December 2019, students must conduct the audit as part of training, with the mentorship of the newly trained teacher at their school.
October 2019 – Subcontractor begins to prepare the student and teacher manuals, Becoming a Resilient Eco-School.
February 2020 – Becoming a Resilient Eco-School manual will be approved and finalized.
March – April 2020: Sub contractor conducts training for teachers and students using the training manuals (Saturdays or after school); Training manual will introduce the implementation themes (e.g. implementing solar panels, rain water harvesting, food safety)
April – July 2020: Full project evaluation, including: teacher attendance at training, knowledge, project buy-in; Student understanding of expectations, attendance; test scores (pre and post tests and before and after the trainings); OPAS uses evaluation to advocate for funding and expansion to move into implementation phase of the program.
On September 20th, 2018 Hurricane María entered the eastern part of Puerto Rico with winds of around 250 kilometers per hour. This category five hurricane hit the islands for approximately 12 consecutive hours. In its wake, it caused overflows of bodies of water, landslides of mountains and widespread devastation.
The direct effect of the hurricane and the consequences that compromised the systems on the island claimed the lives of over 2,900 people. For weeks, 100% of the electric grid was out of service leaving 3.3 million inhabitants without electricity and 44% of the population without water. It is estimated that 90% of houses suffered some type of structural damage and the numbers indicate that up to 200,000 people emigrated to the United States during this period (Washington Post, Nuevo Día).
With no access to basic services, Puerto Ricans turned to community organizations. Among neighbors, they managed to open roads, make communal dinners, look for water and take care of children. For months, it was community-based and non-profit organizations that were able to reach the most affected communities and provide essential services.
In the case of Organización Pro Ambiente Sustentable (OPAS), which administers the Eco-Schools Program in Puerto Rico, schools participating in the Eco-Schools curriculum came together to offer services to their own communities. The organization facilitated several initiatives to support school communities by finding donors for water filters, the reconstruction of schoolyards and delivery of a seeds bank and personal care products. In many cases, Eco-Schools offered drinking water to their students and families, and additional necessities for those who needed it.
Hurricane Maria and its aftermath showed the importance of embedding preparedness education in schools and ensuring that students are equipped with the tools and the knowledge to prepare and recover as effectively as possible.