From April 9-13, 2012, we held the first session of the Early Education Project with directors and teachers of three schools in the area of Deschapelles who teach 3-6 year old children. “We” were myself (Jenifer Grant), Vera Dowell, Jenny Miller and Janine Fraser, all of whom have close ties to Hôpital Albert Schweitzer, have graduate degrees in early childhood education, and all speak both French and Kreyol.
We chose to work directly with the directors and teachers to familiarize them with the materials and concepts which we brought to augment their curriculum. The Descchapelles teachers then, rather than outsiders, would return to their classes as the source of the knowledge for the students.
We spent a week introducing hands-on manipulatives such as puzzles, unifix cubes, small 1″ blocks, geometric stacking “toys” and also included “found” materials such as bottle caps and small stones for numbers exercises. We incorporated some of the wonderful ways that the Haitian teachers use to advance learning in their own schools, such as story telling, learning numbers and the days of the week through song, etc.
We also brought down story books, many in Kreyol, and some familiar to children in the United States such as Brown Bear Brown Bear, Elmer the Elephant, Tap Tap and Three Little Pigs which were either translated by us or came in a French version. We modeled a variety of ways to extend the idea of “story” from discussion to felt board to dramatic re-enactments.
It was a wonderful week, and on the last day we divided the materials between the three schools to be shared in rotation. The teachers will get together in their own schools to discuss what they find “works” and what they find more challenging, to remind each other of aspects of the workshop. Beyond that all the participants will all meet once a month to share information on what was working for them and what they were finding challenging, and to rotate the materials.
Once the directors and teachers in the three schools become familiar and comfortable with the materials and their uses appropriate for their culture, we will do a second workshop with other interested schools in the area. The “graduates” of this first teacher training workshop will become the leaders, with assistance from those of us who led the first session and others who might be interested in assisting. One of the goals of Sister Cities Essex Haiti’s collaboration with the people of Deschapelles is to establish meaningful relationships. And that we did!