Youths chat at Puerto Rico’s Ramon Marin Sola Elementary School, which is temporarily serving as a community center. Schools in the U.S. territory have been closed since Hurricane Maria swept through September 20. (Carlos Giusti/AP)

The novelty of an extended school break has worn off for many kids in Puerto Rico, where classes have been canceled since Hurricane Maria swept across the island last month.

Alanys Arroyo and her little brothers have been cooped up in a school that has been turned into a shelter for those whose homes were destroyed September 20 in the storm.

Alanys, 15, reads and helps her mother clean up. The boys kick around a soccer ball. They are bored.

"The days are long," Alanys said as she washed the family's few clothes in a garbage pail. "I miss studying."

It's not any easier on her mother, Yahaira Lugo, who has started to despair about how to keep her four children occupied. "What do I do with them all day?" she said. "There's nothing. No TV. No Internet. Our books are gone, and there's no place to go."

The storm caused at least 48 deaths and knocked out the power for the island of 3.4 million people.


A student sits alone in a classroom at the school. Students say they are getting bored with all the time off. Officials say some schools will reopen next week but many will be closed at least until October 30. (Carlos Giusti/AP)

All 1,113 public schools are closed, although 167 are serving as community centers and 99 others are being used as shelters. About 70 schools are too damaged to reopen.

Some schools are set to hold classes Monday, but the entire system will reopen no sooner than October 30.

Alanys's 9-year-old brother, Nataniel, said it feels weird to be staying at a school but not going to class.

"I didn't know I liked school that much until I couldn't go," he said.

In darkened classrooms at the Ramon Marin Sola Elementary School, as rain poured down outside, fourth-graders played Connect Four and Parcheesi. Others worked on a Hurricane Maria journal, writing about what they bought before the storm and what they lost, and what they hope for their homes.

"We're trying teach them how to be happy again," said school director Zoraya Cruz. "We're not worried about the curriculum right now. We want them to feel comfortable and safe."

Many students and young people left for the United States mainland, although the exact number is not known. Because the storm followed shortly after Hurricane Irma, which came close to the island without making a direct hit, students have had only about six weeks of class since the school year started on August 14.

Education Secretary Julia Keleher would like to get the school system's 345,000 students back to class as soon as possible. But it's a matter of competing needs, she said. Yes, kids need to get their education and parents need them in school so they can go back to work. But campuses need to be repaired and cleaned, and about 10 percent are still being used as shelters.

"You ask yourself: Is it my rush to get that family out? Because if that family is the family of the child that I am educating, who am I serving here by getting them out faster?" Keleher said.

— Associated Press