It was the start of another school week at the San Carlos Borromeo School in Corail, Haiti. Kids filed into the building wearing neatly pressed, white and blue uniforms, colorful backpacks and braids, pouring into classrooms and plopping themselves down behind desks. As the bell rang, a teacher stood up and began to speak, began to inspire. He opened minds, imparted knowledge, asked questions, and made jokes. The classroom was filled to the brim with curiosity and an eagerness to learn as students deliberated, discussed and shared ideas. To many, this may seem like your average school day. But to the hardworking teachers, administrators and international service fellows who dedicated the last seven years of their lives to making this a reality, it was a revolutionary accomplishment.
This was the outcome of “Playing, Learning and Speaking”, a project launched by America Solidaria in partnership with the San Carlos Borromeo Day School in March of 2011, and the teacher was a man named Pierre. That day, America Solidaria directors sat in the back of the classroom and watched as Pierre used the Dynamic Feedback Method to gage his student’s level of understanding for a grammar exercise. He posed questions to the class, asked students to raise their hands, and encouraged them to explain how they got to their answers. It felt great to see hard work pay off.
Pierre is now one of many teachers paving the way for huge educational strides in Haiti. For decades, Haitian schools and teachers have been using rote learning, a memorization technique based on repetition, to teach students in all subject areas. However, nearly every study shows that rote learning is ineffective, and educational experts urge schools to use more participatory methods to teach students. Because the teachers at San Carlos Borromeo were trained in standard Haitian pedagogy, they did not have the training they needed to better teach their classes and could not make the necessary adjustments for students with disabilities. On top of this, the school had scarce educational resources and poor engagement levels from parents and family members. The faculty and staff knew they needed to make a change—and so they reached out to us.
Our International Service Fellows jumped right in and worked with teachers to give them the tools and training needed to enrich pedagogical practices and implement more effective teaching methods. The school began taking on new techniques and the students showed significant educational improvements. They were excited to come to school and expand their horizons, and in turn, their teachers were excited to teach and remained fully engaged in the process. Students with disabilities received the accommodations they needed to succeed. In the seven years since we’ve been there, we have been able to directly impact 300 students and teachers, and indirectly influence 761 people (parents, relatives, community members, etc.).
It was a strikingly different reality when compared to the apprehension levels prior to the project. Every morning before classes began, students used to recite a pledge, referencing the name of their school. They learned the pledge through rote learning practices and were able to recite it perfectly– every syllable of every word. However when asked where they went to school, students at San Carlos Borromeo couldn’t say—because they just didn’t know.
Now, students are pushing themselves and their classmates to go above and beyond in their academics, making them better students and critical thinkers. They know where they go to school and internalize what they do there, every day.
At America Solidaria, we believe that children everywhere deserve a chance to pursue their greatest dreams. So did San Carlos Borromeo School. When a community has the ability to identify their strengths and weaknesses and work with one another, they can move mountains. This community did exactly that, and showed the world what community-led development can do. Their decision to improve their quality of education changed the lives of hundreds of people, and gave the youth in their community the education they needed to succeed in life.