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Monday, October 17, 2011

Passing Out School Supplies in Haiti

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On Friday I had the opportunity to visit the CACH school in Carrefour, outside of Port-au-Prince, to distribute school supplies to the approximately 100 students that the school supports.  I want to thank the Girl Scouts of America and the Zillah Church of the Nazarene for donating all of the school supplies and backpacks so that these children can have a wonderful school year without worrying about having to buy pencils, pens, scissors, erasers or other school supplies.

I was first contacted about the CACH school by Ishmeet Singh, an individual that was part of a United Sikhs Disaster Response contingent that spent months helping the victims of the earthquake in 2010.  One of their projects resulted in the CACH school, a partnership between the United Sikhs and a committee of devoted parents that did not have the opportunity to send their children to schools in Carrefour.  As a result Ishmeet and the United Sikhs have been sponsoring the school for 2 years now.  When they no longer had someone available to ensure the continued operation of the school I was contacted to serve as an intermediary between Ishmeet and the school.  For the past year we have been working together to create a school that provides an education for the community and its children.

The school has grown from a two room institution to now enrolling children from Kindergarten to 6th grade.  Additionally the enrollment of the school continues to increase from year to year.  The school charges a minimal fee to cover basic necessities such as chalk and drinking water, but the rest is generously provided through Ishmeet and his friends.  I am happy that H.E.R.O. was able to play a small part in the operation of the school through our donations of school supplies and we hope to continue building our relationship with the CACH school to provide additional assistance in the future.  They would really like to begin a feeding program for the school but funds are limited both to purchase the cookware and the daily food requirements. 

The largest class by far was 1st grade, which the rumor mill contends will be 100% free for all children through President Martelly’s education plan.  Unfortunately, at the CACH school, and the school to which our orphans attend, they have received no news about the factual base of this rumor, despite the two weeks of school that have already been completed.  There is hope, however, as just this week the Prime Minister and all Ministerial positions have been approved by the government.  We are eager and ready for the government to take concrete action to increase the quality and quantity of education provided in Haiti.  Education is the only true vehicle available for the elimination of poverty in this country.  Let’s do it!


Steven M. Kirby, Ed.D

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Monday, October 10, 2011

School Begins in Haiti!

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This week has been one of extreme excitement for all at the H.E.R.O. house in Port-au-Prince.  School has begun!  After waiting an extra month for the Ministry of Education to open schools and a H.E.R.O. school selection process that weeded out more than 10 other schools, we are proud to enroll Robenson, Franky, Dayanna, and Valencia into IMHEAD elementary school!

An additional bonus for our children is that a teacher from the school will also serve as the afternoon tutor!  A month before school began we conducted numerous interviews to find a tutor that worked well with our kids, one that provided a good education, was kind, but also strict.  As a result of a wonderful month of instruction provided by Ms. Andre, she will continue throughout the school year. 

The school is near enough to our compound that the children will be able to walk to school.  They will arrive at 8:00 and complete a full day until 1:00.  At that point Ms. Andre will walk the children back home, have lunch with them, and then begin homework, enrichment, and remediation lessons from 1:30-5:00.  Therefore our children will receive a full day of instruction during the week. 

Franky will begin in 1st grade, Dayanna in 2nd grade, and Robenson and Valencia in 3rd grade.  We are excited that Ms. Andre is also the 3rd grade teacher at the school!  We are fortunate to have found Ms. Andre as well as a quality school for the kids.  We look forward to a wonderful school year and a giant leap forward in the academic knowledge of our children!


Steven M. Kirby, Ed.D

Photography Courtesy of Dan Kasnick.

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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Tales from the Inner City: Part 1

I worked at Orchard Villa Elementary School for 3.25 years between 2005-2008.  It was one of the most amazing learning experiences of my life.  Through this blog I hope to share some of my experiences working in a neighborhood that was once foreign to me, but that I now return to time and time again.  You surely won’t agree with everything I have to say here, but they are my experiences, and my memories, whether they are retrospectively falsified or not.

Orchard Villa Elementary is located in Liberty City, the heart of Miami-Dade County.  The attendance boundaries of Orchard Villa include NW 61st Street, the most dangerous street in the entire county, a title certainly not to be proud of, but one that must be respected.  Our students came from 61st and the surrounding neighborhood.  We did, however, have several out-of-boundary students that would flow in on occasion, without the knowledge of the school board of course.

I had the privilege to have one such student.  Being a 3rd grade teacher I had the responsibility to help my students pass the 3rd grade Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test, an assessment that had to be passed in order to proceed to the next grade.  It didn’t help that many of my students entered my class reading on a Kindergarten level, or below.  Alas, I digress.  Xavier, as I will call him, lived much farther north than the school, to the point that every single day of the first 3 weeks of school he was tardy by at least 30 minutes.  Since Reading was the first subject taught every morning, Xavier was missing 30 minutes of Reading instruction daily.  Oh, and he needed that instruction.  I knew that if he wasn’t present every day, for every minute, that he would not pass the 3rd grade FCAT.

I made the decision that as long as Xavier was in my class, he would come on time.  I talked to his mom and explained to her the seriousness of the situation, and then I volunteered to pick him up every morning from where he lived, and drop him off every afternoon.  This resulted in the inclusion of his younger brother into the plan, as he also attended Orchard Villa.

Xavier, his brother, his mother, and her boyfriend lived in a hotel.  Well, it looked like a hotel, but didn’t exactly include the amenities of the Four Seasons.  It was dingy, disgusting, smelled, and in fact is today closed.  At the time, however, for $150.00 a week, a room could be rented to at least live, until the next week.  Every morning I would pick up Xavier and his brother at 6:30 AM, this would give us enough time to get to school by 7:00AM, complete morning tutoring, and even have breakfast before school began at 8:00 AM.  At the hotel I was greeted every morning by the large security guard, who called me “Teach”, and made sure I wasn’t messed with.  There were times that I would walk Xavier and his brother up to their room, only for their mom to open the door and plumes of marijuana smoke escaped through the door.  It was a very sad situation overall, but I knew that if I could get those 2 kids to school on-time, everyday, that not only would they eat a nutritious breakfast every morning, they would receive free tutoring, participate in a full day of education, and hopefully, attain some level of academic knowledge.  For 2 months it went on, a successful plan at work; and I felt like I was making a difference.

It was a Monday morning, a week or so before Thanksgiving.  As usual I rode up I-95 early in the morning to pick up Xavier and his brother.  I arrived promptly at 6:30, phoned their mother to let her know I was there: no answer.  Ok, a phone being off wasn’t unusual, so I stepped out of the car and went inside.  Dressed in a suit, as I did every day of my teaching career, I walked into the hotel and headed towards the elevators.  “Hey Teach”, I heard the large security guard call out to me.  “Are you looking for those kids?” he asked.  “Well” he said, “they don’t live here anymore.”  A look of bewilderment came over my face, but there was nothing I could do but turn around and walk right back out the door to my car. 

That was the last time I heard from Xavier, his brother, his mother, or her boyfriend.  To this day I have no idea where they went or what happened to them.  That is the reality of teaching in an inner city school.  Students come, and they go.  Most unfortunately, the cycle continues.  I pray for Xavier and his brother, that they have found academic success somewhere else, because certainly, the odds are against them.