JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Hundreds of Puerto Rican students in Jacksonville who were displaced by Hurricane Maria are getting a special gift to help them succeed in the classroom.
Just in time for exams next week, these students were given Spanish/English dictionaries to help them at school.
The bilingual dictionaries are state-approved and part of a $3,400 grant through the Helios Education Foundation.
Dozens of students have already received their dictionaries.
Ingrid Carias, the ESOL director at Duval County Public Schools, moved to the U.S. from Honduras at the age of 14 and knows how one small gift can make a difference.
Carias has visited nearly 30 schools, handing out bilingual dictionaries for students to use at school and at home.
"Spanish is their home language. And going through a school system where no one speaks your native
language, that book is going to feel home for you," Carias said. "Those kids are going to feel connected to that book every day."
Connection is exactly what these students need as they transition into their new schools, officials said.
Kabriela Pinero is an eighth-grader at Arlington Middle School. She arrived from Isabela, Puerto Rico, four months ago after Hurricane Maria.
"The hurricane destroyed most of the houses and it blew away most houses that were made
of wood. Everything was on the floor," said Kabriela, who added that she is thankful her family survived.
She said she has adjusted well at her new school, and speaks English well, but knows this new tool will come in handy.
"I do get tongue-twisted with a few words, so I can just look it up if I need to," Kabriela said.
When students started arriving from Puerto Rico, the Duval County School Board had a count of about 150 students. That number increased to 198 when the school district applied for the grant that was used to get the dictionaries.
Since then, the number of Puerto Rican students has grown to just over 240, but the grant only covered the initial 198 dictionaries requested.
The remaining students will be given dictionaries, but the district is paying for them out of pocket.
With everything these students have been through, having something like this to call their own is everything, Carias said.
"Giving them this bilingual dictionary for them to carry every day, they know there's a light after the tunnel," Carias said.