PVPA to hold benefit concert for Puerto Rico earthquake relief

  • Pioneer Valley Performing Arts students, from left, junior Zoe Lemos, senior Julianna Segura, freshman Kayona Firinne and junior Luna Puchalsky rehearse a musical number at the school in South Hadley last Thursday for the coming concert to benefit Puerto Rico earthquake relief. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Pioneer Valley Performing Arts students, from left, senior Julianna Segura, freshman Kayona Firinne and junior Luna Puchalsky rehearse a musical number at the school in South Hadley on Jan. 23. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Pioneer Valley Performing Arts junior Analua Alencar Moreira talks about the upcoming concert. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 04, 2020

SOUTH HADLEY — During the fall semester, a cohort of 15 Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School students prepared to travel to Puerto Rico as part of a project with students at one of the island’s schools. But after a series of earthquakes began to strike Puerto Rico in late December, PVPA officials made the call to cancel the trip.

Now, the Pioneer Valley students are “in a unique position to be able to raise funds for Puerto Rico,” said Analua Alencar Moreira, a junior at the charter school, which they plan to accomplish through a benefit concert scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 13 at Gateway City Arts in Holyoke.

Through a partnership with Easthampton nonprofit Music and Poetry Synchronized (MAPS), students at PVPA connected with students at the Alcides Figueroa School in Añasco, Puerto Rico. Students there wrote poems about their experiences during and after Hurricane Maria, and last month, students at PVPA began setting the poetry to music. Originally, the Pioneer Valley students were to fly to Puerto Rico on Jan. 27 for five days of further collaboration with Alcides Figueroa students, culminating in a performance for the school and surrounding community. 

Instead, PVPA students will perform the songs locally and incorporate video of Alcides Figueroa students reading their poems. Organizers have suggested a $15 donation for admission.

In Añasco, which is on the west coast of Puerto Rico, “fortunately, thank goodness, we don’t have major issues,”  said Alcides Figueroa​​​​​​​ School teacher and Director of Education Janet Nieves, although the region had some structural damage to homes in the mountains and a major bridge. The school remains indefinitely closed as authorities conduct safety inspections of schools around the island.

The earthquakes, which included a 6.4 magnitude tremor near the south coast of the island on Jan. 7, have left one person dead and hundreds of homes destroyed, and caused an estimated $200 million in damages, according to the Associated Press.

With no guarantees that Alcides Figueroa​​​​​​​ School would be open next week, PVPA officials decided earlier this month to cancel the trip, said Charlotte Donovan, enrollment and communication coordinator for PVPA. 

The cancellation was “definitely disappointing,” Alencar Moreira said. But, she noted, “ultimately, it’s not just about our sadness and not being able to go.” More striking is that there are people in Puerto Rico without homes and power because of the earthquake, she said.

Donovan made a similar observation, noting that while the students looked forward to the trip as “an incredible chance to make cultural bonds,” they are glad they still have the chance to make a difference.

Alcides Figueroa​​​​​​​ students are also disappointed that they won’t be able to host the Pioneer Valley cohort as planned, according to Nieves.

“The kids were really motivated,” Nieves said. “They worked really hard. We wanted to present the students from MAPS what our culture is as music and dance, and they had prepared a really big activity.”

Her school’s students have been eager to express themselves through poetry, Nieves said, writing on topics ranging from natural disasters to personal feelings about society or not fitting in.

“They’re trying to be heard,” Nieves said. “They picked things that are very relevant to them.”

The idea to hold the fundraising concert arose organically, Donovan said.

“In the decision-making process to cancel the trip, it was understood something else needs to happen … there needs to be some sort of call to action for all the students involved at PVPA and Puerto Rico,” she said.

Nieves said she was surprised and grateful to hear that PVPA would fundraise for earthquake relief, calling the cohort “a very special group.”

Although the students will not be able to meet in person, Alencar Moreira said working with the Puerto Rican students’ poetry has created a sense of closeness among the groups, despite the distance between South Hadley and Añasco.

“Even though our trip got canceled by the earthquake, we’ve had a little Puerto Rico here with us because of the poems and getting to hear the poets’ experiences,” Alencar Moreira said, praising the work as “remarkable.”

“I was just in awe of the vulnerability the poets are demonstrating and the quality of the writing,” she said. “Every single word was there because there wasn’t another word that could replace it.”

While fundraising for hurricane relief is a priority of the concert, Alencar Moreira added,  “I hope that the poets at AFS feel the same connection we’ve been feeling with their poetry.”

Alcides Figueroa School still hopes to host the PVPA students someday, but there are no concrete plans at this point.

“We have to get back to what normal is,” Nieves said.

Whether or not the students are ever able to meet in person, Nieves said, she hopes to see more programming like Music and Poetry Synchronized in schools.

“We think that more projects like MAPS should continue, because we need our students to be able to work in other ways,” Nieves said. “It’s not only the academics — the arts have so much to do with learning, and it’s a way for them to express themselves.”