Jenifer Grant, Diane Huot, a first grade teacher in New Haven who has joined our EETT efforts, and Anny Frederique met with the EETT teachers on Sunday evening to discuss Diane’s and Anny’s visits upcoming visits to the schools. The schools are slowly integrating the manipulatives as well as story time in their curriculum. They are eager for further workshop training offered by one of several Haitian programs. They are also interested in having several individual EETT teachers travel to Haiti to spend a collaborative week in the schools which took part in the EETT workshop.
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!
On my recent visit to Deschapelles, I was accompanied by Vera Dowell, wife of former HAS Pediatrician, then Medical Director over a period of many years. She has a MSEd from Bankstreet College of Education and has taught in Haiti as well as other places.
Before my departure I had an opportunity to meet with Dr. Ruth Levy, Superintendent of Region 4 Schools, some administrators and teachers from the three elementary schools, Essex, Deep River and Chester, in preparation for deeper involvement.
We had an opportunity to meet with the three directors of the three participating schools, Kettelie Petite-Loute, Wisly Demeran and Mari-jos Dutreuil. We also visited each of the schools to give us base line information to help us all lay the groundwork for the first Early Education Teacher Training Workshops which will take place in February. The schools had only just opened and this was their second week. Each school had three classes of children from 3-6. I stayed for an hour and Vera stayed the whole morning which gave her a thorough view of what goes on a regular day. While each school had its own distinct personality, they also had similarities. The directors and the teachers are all eager to take part in this workshop.
It was a joy to spend time with the children, all in their uniforms, and the teachers.
In August 2011, ODES and the SCEH Executive Committee approved an application from three directors of schools in Deschapelles serving young children for an Early Education Project. While it is still in the early planning stages, the mission of the Project will be to enhance existing curricula, introduce hands-on manipulative educational materials important to cognitive development especially in very young children, provide the necessary equipment and materials, and learn from one another regarding the teaching of young children.
Plans are being made for a newly formed committee comprised of several American educators with past experience teaching in Haiti and who speak either French or Kreyol and teachers from southeastern Connecticut, all well versed in the use of manipulative hands-on child centered materials, to develop the program. All materials will be culturally appropriate. It is anticipated that the Project will initially consist of a week of workshops with the three directors who wrote the proposal, all their teachers who instruct children from ages 3-6, and the SCEH teacher trainers. After the Haitian teachers have had enough time to use the new skills in their classrooms and are comfortable with their knowledge, they, in turn, will hold workshops with other interested schools in the area, supported by some of the same US teacher trainers.
Schools in Haiti, especially in the rural areas, are spare. The quality of the school varies widely. Learning is traditionally by rote. Papers and pencils are scarce, The younger school children often have child-sized tables and chairs, but the older ones have wooden bench/desk arrangements which will hold often one more child than you thought would be possible. Each classroom for older children has a blackboard. They have few materials, including books for reading pleasure. Their school yards, if there is any space at all, is often just hard dirt and only rarely is there playground equipment.
Sister Cities Essex Haiti’s Early Education Project is a beginning step to address some of these issues by collaborating with educators in the Deschapelles area to introduce cognitive-based teaching methods and materials.
This program has been embraced by Dr. Ruth Levy, Superintendent of Regional School District 4, and the administrators of Essex, Deep River and Chester Elementary Schools, John Winthrop Junior High School, and Valley
Regional High School.