December 2017


Students will:

  • Understand the post-hurricane situation in Puerto Rico within a broader context of U.S.-Puerto Rican relations.
  • Compare the perspectives presented in a variety of sources about the U.S. response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
  • Form and justify their own opinions about responsibility for Puerto Rico’s recovery after Hurricane Maria.


After Hurricane Maria: The U.S. Role in Puerto Rico

Understanding the U.S. Role in Puerto Rico

Sources 1-8

Comparing Sources

Online Videos

Democracy Now! news story: “‘We Cannot Wait’: Puerto Rico’s Residents Organize to Provide Food & Water After Hurricane Maria” 


Note to Teachers: A transcript of the Democracy Now! news story is available as a source handout (Source 4). Watching the video adds live footage and a more personal tone to the speakers’ comments. If you are unable to access the internet and/or video, you may choose to have students read the transcript instead.

In the Classroom

1. Activating Prior Knowledge

Pose the following question for students to discuss: “When a hurricane or other natural disaster hits somewhere in the United States, who is expected to respond and how?” Make a list on the board of the individuals and organizations that students mention. Then ask students what they have heard about Hurricane Maria, which hit Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017, and the hurricane’s aftermath.

Write the focus question on the board: “Who is responsible for Puerto Rico’s recovery from the devastation of Hurricane Maria?” Point out that Hurricane Maria occurred over two months ago, but the devastation in Puerto Rico is ongoing, and questions about the U.S. role in responding to the devastation continue to be a source of debate. Tell students that they will be examining a variety of sources to help them consider this question.

You may wish to lead a brief discussion about why it is important to follow the longer-term aftermath of a natural disaster. While news sources usually devote heavy reporting to disasters immediately after they hit, coverage tends to trail off after a matter of days or weeks. Students may have noticed that media coverage of the situation in Puerto Rico has decreased but does still continue. Recent news reports have focused on the ongoing devastation caused by Hurricane Maria and questions about who is responsible for Puerto Rico’s recovery. Longer-term effects of a natural disaster can highlight larger issues that pre-existed the natural disaster. Though these issues get less media coverage, they deserve the public’s attention because they suggest areas of need for longer-term policy development and change.

2. Building Background Knowledge

Explain to students that, before examining sources which present perspectives on the lesson’s focus question, they will read a text that gives background information about Hurricane Maria’s impact on Puerto Rico and the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States. Distribute the handout, “After Hurricane Maria: The U.S. Role in Puerto Rico” and have students follow the instructions.

(Note: You may choose to have students respond to comprehension questions about this reading on the handout, “Understanding the U.S. Role in Puerto Rico.” Alternatively, you may choose just to discuss the facts students highlighted and their questions.)

After reading, have students turn to a classmate to share the new information they underlined in the text. Invite students to share any questions the reading raised for them. Answer clarifying questions about the information in the text.

3. Examining Sources

Divide students into pairs. Distribute two or three of the sources from “Sources 1-8” to each pair, as well as the handout, “Comparing Sources.” Instruct students to read each of their sources and follow the instructions on the handout, “Comparing Sources.”

After each pair has read their assigned sources and responded to the questions on the handout, invite pairs who read different sources to join together to share their responses.

4. Closing Discussion

Invite students to share their responses to the third question on the “Comparing Sources” handout: According to different sources, who should be responsible for Puerto Rico’s recovery following Hurricane Maria, and what is this group or individual responsible for? Make a list of individuals and groups, perhaps to the side of the list you recorded during the lesson’s the opening discussion. (Some groups that could be viewed as responsible may include: the U.S. federal government, the governor and local leaders of Puerto Rico, international organizations, U.S. aid and volunteer organizations, Puerto Ricans living in Puerto Rico, and citizens in the United States.)

Ask students to refer to the reading from earlier in the lesson to make connections between the perspectives presented in the sources and the broader context of U.S.-Puerto Rican relations. How do different claims about responsibility for Puerto Rico’s recovery connect to what students know about Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. territory? For example, how might the fact that residents of Puerto Rico cannot vote for president of the United States, or that they do not have voting power in Congress, affect the federal government’s disaster response? How might the history of federal funding for Puerto Rico and U.S control over Puerto Rico’s trade (e.g. the Jones Act of 1920) affect the island’s recovery from natural disasters today? Did any of the sources that students read directly mention the historical and political relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States? If so, what arguments did those sources make about this relationship?

Ask students who they believe is responsible for ensuring that Puerto Rico is able to rebuild after Hurricane Maria. Encourage students to justify their ideas using facts from the reading and/or the sources they read.

Extra Challenges

  1. Invite students to research more about Puerto Rico’s history, including, but not limited to, the island’s relationship with the United States. Students could write about their findings or present them to the class.
  2. If students have connections to members of the Puerto Rican community living in the United States, invite them to interview those individuals about their perspectives on Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States. Students might ask about issues of equal rights, statehood, and anything else they are curious to know. Students could share these oral histories in a variety of formats.
  3. Invite students to research responses of the U.S. government to natural disasters that have occurred in the United States and/or U.S. territories in the past. Students could compile data about the amount of federal aid provided, the timeline of the U.S. government’s response, perspectives of people in the affected area, media coverage of the disaster and its aftermath, and any significant political events that might have occurred before or after the disaster hit. Students could compare and contrast this data across cases and see if they can draw conclusions about what might account for the differences in how the U.S. government responded.

Image: Puerto Rico, October 4, 2017. Photo by Puerto Rico National Guard Spc. Agustín Montañez


Back to top