Marie Degro was the first student to arrive at Crosby High School in Waterbury from Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
She left Puerto Rico with nothing but three pairs of shoes, two pairs of pants and three t-shirts. But because of how bad things were for her and her family on the northern coast of the island, she’s just happy to be here.
“The first week was horrible because we didn’t have power, so we couldn’t heat the food,” Degro, 15, said through a translator. “We didn’t have water to drink nor to flush the toilet. It was really difficult.”
Even though she’ll be living with her aunt in Waterbury, her situation here is far from perfect. Her aunt has been here in Connecticut for only four months and is still looking for a job -- at the same time she’s taking care of various family members with special needs. And Marie doesn’t have any heavy clothing as winter approaches. But the Hispanic Coalition and Waterbury Public Schools have assured her that they will get her what she needs.
Through it all, Marie said she has an opportunity that many of her friends at home haven’t gotten.
“Over there they don’t have school,” Marie said. “The Secretary of Education of Puerto Rico--she wants the students to go to school. But there’s no teachers. There’s nothing available for them. I’m glad that I'm here in Connecticut, because I’m going to finish high school. But I’m sad about [what’s happening] the other way. I’m sad because my partners from Puerto Rico—they’re not going to be able to finish the school year.”
On her first day of school, Marie signed on for “4-H” and the Computer Emergency Response Team (“CERT”) extracurricular activities. She was happy that her placement test kept her in the same grade she was in back home--11th grade.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story included references to the student and the student's aunt migrating "to America." This has been corrected to reflect Puerto Rico's status as a U.S. Territory.
This story is part of “The Island Next Door,” WNPR’s reporting project about Puerto Rico and Connecticut after Hurricane Maria.