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Strained Themselves, Incoming Haitian Students Strain Local Schools

This article is more than 13 years old.

Thousands of miles from the rubble in Port-au-Prince, 12-year-old Angela Osiris is in uniform at Trinity Catholic Academy in Brockton. And she is really not enjoying winter.

"I hate the snow," she says in her native French Creole. She doesn’t like getting bundled up with a jacket and scarf to keep warm. But that is the only thing Angela complains about in her new life in Brockton with her mother, as she says she loves her new friends and school.

But she goes from animated to sad when she recalls Jan. 12, the day of the earthquake. She was buried under her classroom in Port-au-Prince, though her father was able to pull her free. As a tear rolls down her cheek, she explains how her grandfather was trapped under the rubble at home and died from his injuries.

The five new Haitian students at the middle school all have similar stories, says Cynthia Dunn McNally, Trinity Catholic's principal.

"The boy who is in sixth grade came and registered with his stepmother, who said — and this touched me most of all — he was 'only under the rubble for eight hours,' and I think that drove home the magnitude of what this was like," McNally says.

These new students are creating a shock wave of their own in Brockton's public schools. So far, 84 have arrived since February. They do not have school records or vaccination papers. Many are homeless and living with relatives.

Twenty-three new students came to Ashfield Middle School — enough to fill a classroom. But the school has not budgeted or planned for a new classroom mid-year, so the kids are squeezed in with the rest of the students, says Principal Barbara Lovell.

"Bilingual classes typically are smaller in size than some of the other classrooms," Lovell says. "So when you take a change in the class goes from 15 to 24 — one of our classes went from 20 to 36 — it really makes a crowding issue."

You can see the crowding in a bilingual sixth grade math class where as many as eight students share a table that used to have only two.

The school cannot afford to hire another teacher, so special education teachers and others are asked to come into the classroom. Minoche Guerrier is a Haitian math teacher who is helping out. She says the new students have a lot of potential.

"A number of them speak English, they don’t need translations, so they come very ready to learn," Guierrier says.

Other cities and towns with Haitian populations are also seeing new students. Public schools in Randolph have 36 new students, Somerville has seven. Boston Public Schools don’t know how many new Haitians have arrived because it hasn’t had a huge effect on enrollment.

Principal Lovell says the Haitians arriving now are from wealthy families.

"These students are coming from the very best schools in Haiti and are extremely well-prepared to succeed," Lovell says. "I don’t think, of the new students (that) have arrived, any of them have missed a homework assignment since they’ve come."

Three boys from one private school in Port-au-Prince have enrolled in Ashfield Middle School. One of them is 13-year-old Philippe Elie. His parents sent him to Brockton to live with his uncle because he school was destroyed.

"They don’t want me to see all those people dying," Elie says. "They want me to continue with life."

So he continues his life — without his parents, in a new country, speaking a new language, in a new school.

This program aired on March 1, 2010.


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