Gettin’ Schooled in Haiti

No, we’re not just talking about what would happen if I tried to play soccer against Haitian kids half my age and size. The 2010-2011 school year in Haiti started October 4, and while getting the HFHF school building back into pre-earthquake shape still requires continuous construction (kind of like life at UNC, the University of Never-ending Construction), class is back in session! We thought this would be a great opportunity to explain a little more about the state of education in Haiti and the HFHF school – plus, we’ve got a very exciting announcement at the end of this blog!

“School’s out forever…”

It’s every kid’s dream, the anthem of each summer and the subject of those clever Alice Cooper Staples commercials. But, unfortunately, it’s also the reality for many children in Haiti when they reach the end of their primary school education.

In Haiti, even before the earthquake, the enrollment rate for primary school was 67 percent, with less than 30 percent of elementary school students reaching 6th grade. In other words, out of every 100 children, fewer than 20 receive an education above an elementary school level, if they receive that at all. The rural population – like the people of Zorange – is underrepresented in the school system, making those statistics even more dramatic.

Haitian school children]

Rural education

Enter the Hope for Haiti Foundation school. Founded as an elementary school in 2000, with the primary school opening in 2006, not only does it provide access to both primary and secondary education for children who might not otherwise receive it, but it offers LOCAL education. Before, if a child did have an opportunity to continue their education, they would have to move to the city. Now, they can stay home with their families and use their knowledge and education to build strong rural communities. We have added a grade each year since we have started the school, hoping that in the near future, a student will be able to attend the HFHF school for their entire education.

Marie Lucia Pierre understands the need for educational opportunities in the mountains and countryside of Haiti. Growing up in Zorange, where she now works, she faced the hard choice of moving away from home or dropping out school.

“When I finished sixth grade, I had to move to Port au Prince,” she said, when asked about how HFHF has changed the community in Zorange. “Today, I wouldn’t have to move to continue my education.”

“I hope that as [HFHF’s work] continues, we will have an awesome community,” she added.

Marie, in the future cafeteria of the school

Marie is the portrait of the way access to education can not only change a life, but change communities in rural Haiti. One of the major issues during the Duvalier dictatorship was a “brain drain”, where many of the educated professionals in Haiti either fled the country or moved to the city to try to find opportunities. Providing education to children in the mountains and countryside of Haiti strengthens those areas as educated people stay and give back to their villages. Marie’s schooling equipped her to go work for organizations like Compassion International, before being recruited by Elade to come support the HFHF school and afterschool programs.

Doin’ it, doin’ it, doin’ it well

As one of the only schools offering higher level education in the region, we recognize our responsibility to create a strong program that focuses not just on academics, but on building character and creating opportunities for fun and personal growth.

Louis Adam, the head of education for HFHF, described his vision for students at HFHF’s school:
“A few years ago, we created the portrait of a graduate of our school. We determined the skills and knowledge beyond the academics that a graduate from our school should possess. With athletics, the library, the computer lab, the enriched curriculum, and the character counts program, I am happy to say that we are on our way in producing well-rounded, productive young Haitians from Zorange.”

Marie is one of the people who is instrumental in making sure students at our school get more than just reading, writing and arithmetic. As a leader of LIJAS, the academic and sports league, and the afterschool programs, Marie is responsible for overseeing the children’s club that meets on the weekends, the sports leagues and cultural activities, all of which create opportunities for students to grow into responsible, well-rounded adults – and have fun!

“We know it will help them grow, and the cultural aspect of the work helps them have fun,” she said.

We’ve got some academic rockstars at our school, too! Recent exam results reveal that we are doing well at the primary level. For three years straight, we have reached 90 percent passing rate, a rate much higher than the national average.

Nancine, one of the little cuties benefiting from educational opportunities in Zorange

Drum roll, please

Remember that announcement we promised? Well, one of the most exciting parts of the new school year is that, for the first time, those 9th graders from last year got to stick around for one more year. That’s right – Hope for Haiti Foundation now offers 10th grade. Not only is this incredibly significant for this year’s class of 10th graders who were able to continue their education, but it brings the HFHF school into Tier 3 education, a monumental step for rural education. Haiti’s educational system is based on the French system and is divided into three tiers: Pre-K to 6th grade, 7th to 9th grade and 10th grade to terminale. Essentially, our school is now a high school, in addition to an elementary and secondary school. Now, the Hope for Haiti Foundation school is the only one in the area, other than the school in the city of Bainet, that offers classes in the third tier of education. We’re so excited, we could do a High School Musical jump!

We plan to continue our trend of adding a new grade each year, and we can’t wait to graduate a class of students who were able to start and finish school at the HFHF school, in their hometown.

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