Hartford's new teachers recruited from Puerto Rico reflect on their journey to Connecticut
Paso a Paso, a Hartford Public School’s program that recruits teachers from Puerto Rico, is in its third year. Two teachers from the island will begin working at schools within the district this fall.
The program was a result of Hurricane Maria, which forced many Puerto Rican children to come to Connecticut to continue their education due to the devastation inflicted upon schools on the island.
Amidst a shortage of language teachers, the Hartford Public School District wanted to develop a program that met the needs of the bilingual students.
Delbert Alvarado, an incoming Spanish teacher at Hartford High School has been in Hartford for two weeks with his wife. Alvarado has already met several Puerto Rican teachers at the school, who are from the island and the U.S. He said he already feels a sense of community.
“I was born and raised in Ponce, Puerto Rico. Coming from a small town and making this big step, this big change in my life, it’s part of my dreams coming true,” Alvarado said. “I’ve come here from very far away but I’ve arrived to a community of educators that share roots of where I came from.”
Becoming a teacher is a calling that you can’t ignore, Alvarado said. He discovered his passion for learning from one of his college professors. He was pursuing another major but his professor’s dedication to knowing each student’s personal story, made him change his mind about what he wanted to do in life.
This will be Alvarado’s first time teaching students who aren’t native Spanish speakers. And he says he’s excited for the challenge.
“I hope to have my students open a box of possibilities and engage in a new world that will open doors for them,” he said. “The greatest satisfaction I can have for my students is to master a new language. Spanish is a superpower.”
He wants to spend the first few days getting to know each one of his students. He’s glad to embrace a new generation of students who reject traditional learning methods. He also said he’s looking forward to reinventing himself as a teacher.
Alexandra Marie Rivera Febres, an incoming Spanish teacher at Weaver High School said she’s used to being around her family in Puerto Rico. So, the move to Connecticut has been an adjustment. It’s her passion for being a teacher that helps her remain in high spirits.
“Puerto Ricans, we really like to be around our families and friends and see each other every day. Right now, I’m just talking with them on the phone or through FaceTime,” she said.
Rivera Febres is from Carolina, Puerto Rico. She was a teacher for a year on the island before making the move to the U.S. to be with her fiancé. Her expectations were different from what she’s experiencing now, she said.
“I always thought of coming to the United States but I didn’t know it was going to be this way. It's different because of the laws, what I see on the street, here in the school, like every system, and every part of it is different from Puerto Rico.”
But she loves being with students and has wanted to be a teacher ever since she was in middle school.
“The system in Puerto Rico is so different but it is a huge relief to find a job that can help me balance my personal life with everything that I have to manage at home,” Rivera Febres said.
She arrived in Connecticut just over a month ago and said the move has taken a toll. As she has had to rely on her community of teachers at the school to give her rides and help with her groceries.
She’s nervous, but still excited about the new experience. This will be her first time teaching high school students. Hartford Public Schools begin the school year on August 29th.
“I’m excited to get to know the students. It’s a new age, a different generation. My expectations are high and I’m hoping for the best,” Rivera Febres said.
In Puerto Rico, many teachers have fled the island because of low wages. The minimum wage has been $1,750 a month for the past 13 years. After Hurricane Maria, around 13,000 Puerto Ricans moved to Connecticut.
In February 2022, school teachers on the island received a $1,000 salary increase. Pedro Pierluisi, governor of Puerto Rico, is hoping to make it permanent.
Daisy Torres-Hill, the acting assistant superintendent of professional learning and multilingual learners in the Hartford district says that may have contributed to the shortage of applications this school year. In 2022, they recruited 14 teachers, this year they hired two.
With the addition of Caribbean Connection, a program dedicated to hiring teachers from across the Caribbean, the district is hoping to continue bringing teachers to Connecticut that can relate to their students.
“The fact that our students can see educators that reflect who they are in terms of language, given that we have over 55% of our population that identify as Latino or Hispanic, this is really important for them,” Torres-Hill said.