MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – As more and more families escape the misery in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, many are flying to South Florida, which is translating to a big influx of students to local schools.
With shovels in hand, the folks at Scott Lake Elementary School in Miami Gardens had reason to celebrate Thursday.
The school is undergoing $3.5 million in upgrades, including the construction of 18 new classrooms.
"This is my neighborhood school. My children attended this elementary school about 25 years ago," Dr. Steve Gallon III, a school board member, said.
The new school year brought more students into classrooms across South Florida and enrollments are still growing as more and more families come to Florida from hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.
"We have a long tradition of welcoming kids from other countries. Puerto Rican kids happen to be U.S. citizens," Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said.
At least 90 students from the island have enrolled in Miami-Dade public schools, up from 30 just days ago. Officials say 128 Puerto Rican students have enrolled in Broward County public schools.
"They've been quickly adapting to our schools and I've talked with the secretary of education of Puerto Rico, and we are working to transition the kids into the South Florida community," Carvalho said.
School administrators in Puerto Rico said it'll be weeks, if not months, before some of the island's 350,000 students can return to class.
A good number of them will come to the U.S. to live with relatives.
An estimated 6,000 Puerto Ricans have arrived by air and sea in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando.
School leaders have already asked lawmakers to waive caps on class sizes and they've made it clear that they'll need more money and resources to handle the influx of students.
"As soon as flights are fully restored between San Juan to Miami, we expect that number to grow dramatically. If not hundreds, into the thousands," Carvalho said.