The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘Thank God, at last!’ Watch the ecstatic reaction when this Puerto Rican school gets power

Students and teachers at Academia Bautista de Puerto Nuevo in San Juan, Puerto Rico had gone without electricity for 112 days since Hurricane Maria struck. (Video: Academia Bautista de Puerto Nuevo)
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Josue Gomez, the administrative director of Academia Bautista de Puerto Nuevo in San Juan, Puerto Rico, was sitting in his darkened office last week when he heard a chorus of shrieks and cheers coming from the courtyard.

When he rushed there, he found students and teachers cheering and hugging. And then he saw what the fuss was about: The lights in the classrooms were on.

“I saw the lights and I said, ‘Thank God, at last!’ ” he recalled.

Students in school uniforms jumped up and down and tore down corridors, while others yelled and whistled. A woman clanged a bell. Their ecstatic reaction to power being restored the morning of Jan. 11 was captured on video and went viral.

Like many schools across the island, the academy, a private Christian institution in the heart of San Juan, lost power when Hurricane Maria struck the island in September. It resumed classes three weeks after the storm without power because families were desperate to get their children back in school and had begun to leave the island. Of the 950 students who started the year at the school, which has classes from prekindergarten through 12th grade, about 900 returned after the hurricane.

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The video represents a slender ray of hope in the midst of the longest blackout in U.S. history. As of last week, about 40 percent of customers still had no power, and hundreds of schools were operating without electricity.

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At Academia Bautista, that meant air conditioners were off. Teachers had to open windows to air out stifling classrooms, letting the noise and the pollution of the busy city in. The basketball league was suspended because games were played on an outdoor court and the lights could not be switched on. Classroom projectors and smart boards were little more than decor, and after-school programs were canceled because students had to be sent home long before sunset.

That all changed last week, when the lights went back on about 9 a.m.

“It was an explosion of happiness,” Gomez said. “Electricity changes everything.”

Now, classes have begun to return to normal, though there are still occasional blackouts. Even the school’s basketball team is expected to resume competition next week, aided by the lights that illuminate the outdoor court.

Gomez said many students return each day to households still without power, and for that reason, teachers have made adjustments to homework. He hopes the viral video will buoy hope for the thousands of educators and students across the island still teaching and learning in the dark.

“Someday, they can feel the happiness and the greatness of having electricity again,” Gomez said.

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