This story is about Chedlie Pierre, a fourth grade girl who launched a new adventure for New Life for Haiti. Like any other fourth grader, Chedlie spends much of her day in school. She loves learning and seeing her friends in the classroom. Yet, there is something that sets Chedlie apart.
“Chedlie, can you read?”
Fran Leeman, the Director of New Life for Haiti, was in Haiti helping the children write letters back to their sponsors. He looked at Chedlie after asking the question. She put her head down and avoided his eyes. In the quietest of voices, she responded.
Up until then, Fran assumed that Chedlie was shy. She was often quiet and didn’t say anything when Fran asked her if she read her letters. Chedlie evaded his questions and acted sheepish. It wasn’t until that moment, when Chedlie told her truth, that Fran realized the real situation. It hit Fran hard. Over the years, New Life for Haiti managed to build five schools for Haitian children like Chedlie. Despite that fact, some children still couldn’t read. The problem was deeper than imagined.
Chedlie struggles due to the quality of her education. When she has trouble learning how to read, there is no way to tell anyone. Her teacher never offers to help or to explain things more clearly. This is due to the way education is conducted in Haiti. In a typical classroom, the teacher stands in front of the classroom and lectures. There are copious amounts of students in each class. Most have anywhere from 50-60 students. Some classes have up to 100 that range in age. Even the youngest students, (those in kindergarten or first grade), learn by lecture. There is no engagement, no explanation, no opportunity for students to work together, and no learn-by-playing.
The students write things in their notebooks while the teachers write on the board. There is recitation within the lesson and students will repeat words or simple math equations. In this setting, it’s impossible to know if students are making progress. If a student can’t write or read, they are left at an even greater disadvantage because the entire system is built on the lecture and recitation method. It is easy to be left behind in the sea of students.
There used to be mandatory tests that would determine if a student could pass to the next grade level. Those have been eliminated. Schools move all children to the next grade level, allowing students of all abilities to pass without having the necessary skills. At the end of sixth grade students take a government standardized test. Due to the flaws in the system, many students are unable to pass. They just stop going to school when they fail.
Marnie Van Wyk, head of Operation Better Learning for New Life, teaches second grade in the United States. When she came to Haiti on a trip, she observed these issues. She saw the chaos in the schools, the lack of connection between teacher and student, and the lack of creative and helpful teaching methodology. Marie and Fran sat down and talked about the problem. Through that conversation, the Model School idea was born.
This is our next New Life for Haiti project. The Model School will be a school run through Haitian leadership. The teachers will use new methodology and will be trained by experienced teachers from the United States. The Model School will be exactly that: a model that can show all other schools and teachers what education can look like when done differently.
Fran says, “A picture is worth a thousand words. We have to show them. They have to be able to come into a school and see something so different from anything they’ve imagined, and hopefully fall in love with it.”
So, that is what we’re doing. It was little Chedlie who made the difference. Her smile, her eagerness to learn, and her embarrassment over not being able to read, helped us realize the depth of the problem. It isn’t enough to build more schools. New Life for Haiti must impact the educational system so that every child has a real chance for hope and a future.