Iowa Elementary School Principal Reflects On Experience Helping Rebuild A School In Puerto Rico

Feb 13, 2019

A western Iowa principal recently returned home from Puerto Rico where he spent a week helping to rebuild a school affected by Hurricane Maria in 2017.

Principal Chad Shook of Lawton-Bronson Elementary in Woodbury County volunteered in Juncos, Puerto Rico at the end of January. He said he helped build a concrete wall around a K-thru-9 school playground and assembled some donated playground equipment for them.

“I feel like it benefited me more than it actually benefitted them,” Shook said.

Shook says one of his biggest takeaways is how much the students in Bronson have compared to the students at Colegio Bautista in Juncos.

“They don’t have a very fancy school, they don’t have very many fancy things, but I think their kids are every bit as happy as ours," he said. "And I think that just goes to show no matter where you’re at and no matter what conditions kids are under, kids are kids.”

Colegio Bautista has about 120 students from kindergarten through 9th grade. By comparison, Lawton-Bronson Elementary, which has grades pre-K through 6th, has nearly 400 students.

Shook kept an online log about the trip, where he detailed his day-to-day experience and answered questions from his students back home. In segments he shared with Iowa Public Radio, he wrote about his experience sitting in on some of the school’s classes and interacting with the students.

They wanted to know about all of you guys.  They couldn’t believe that our students had cell phones and computers.  They said you were lucky.  They were surprised to find out that our kids do not have to wear uniforms to school.  They liked that!  They gave me some good advice on Puerto Rican foods that I should try!

One of the most striking differences between his school and Colegio Bautista, Shook said, is the technology. Lawton-Bronson Elementary has laptops available for every student while the students at the Juncos school have no computers in the classroom.

“There were teachers that had computers but it was just one laptop that I saw and they would project it on the board, but they didn’t even have a screen to project it on. They just projected it on the chalkboard," Shook said.

Another difference Shook pointed out is that the students at Colegio Bautista do not have lockers. The children carry their stuff in big school bags on wheels and set their bags under awnings during the day.

“Once in a while you’d see some kids running out of class and they’d rifle through their bags and grab a book and go back into class,” Shook said. “Their desks that I saw, they never had room for storage in them. The kids took everything they had home at the end of the day and brought it back to school the next day in these rolling suitcases.”

Shook joined more than 20 educators from across the country, including Iowa PTA secretary and treasurer Hoang Bui, on Lifetouch’s 2019 Memory Mission. He plans to give a presentation about his experience to Lawton-Bronson Elementary’s student body on Friday.