Sharing Cultures and Books

Haitian and U.S. Students engage in Interculturality

Srs. Limeteze Pierre-Gilles, SSND, and Eileen Eppig, SSND

Haiti Collaboration Committee

We expand our understanding of interculturality and commit to developing skills for intercultural living in community and society (YAS, GD 36).

Our Lady of Hope and St Luke School
Our Lady of Hope/St Luke School

Our Directional Statement, Love Gives Everything, invites SSNDs to expand their understanding of interculturality in order to prepare for living with those of other cultures in community and society. Our province has been taking some steps in this direction. To help in this regard, the Haiti Committee, with a grant from the SSND Teacher Training Initiative, has begun the Mother Tongue Book Project with the goal of connecting Haitian and US students in an activity of reading, writing, and understanding each other’s cultures.

To achieve this, the Haiti Committee has engaged three U.S.-based elementary schools. These are St. Peter the Apostle Elementary School in Philadelphia, PA, where Sr. Rose Federici is the principal; Our Lady of Hope/St. Luke School in Dundalk, MD, with Sister Irene Pryle as principal; and St. Martha at Bishop Nevin Academy in Sarasota, FL, where Sister Cathy Bonfield teaches. These sisters have agreed to participate in this intercultural exchange pilot project involving some of their students and teachers.

St Peter the Apostle School
St Peter the Apostle School

In Haiti, the Matenwa Community Learning Center, MCLC, which teaches Haitian children to read and write in Creole, has also agreed to participate in the project. Under the supervision of their teachers, the Haitian students have written several books for the Center’s library. The books are written in Creole and then translated into French and English. For this intercultural pilot project, the MCLC will share some of these books with the children in the three US based schools.

With guidance from their teachers and principals, the students in schools with SSND leaders, will read several books over the course of one school year. In addition, and if they choose to do so, these students will write their own books for translation and share them with the Haitian children at Matenwa Community Learning Center. At the end of each reading session, the teachers will ask the children questions designed to deepen intercultural understanding.

Our Lady of Hope/St. Luke

Our Lady of Hope and St Luke School
Our Lady of Hope/St Luke School

Our Lady of Hope/St. Luke School has been very involved for a while in learning about Haiti and the work of the AMSSND partnership with Beyond Borders. In May 2020, Mary Gunning, AMSSND Associate, and I, Sr. Limeteze, did a virtual presentation for the sixth-grade class, which had been working on a water project on the Bay in Baltimore. The students were invested in their studies about water, and well informed on the subject. They shared power point presentations on water, or the lack thereof, in Haiti and these were very well done and informative.

Under the guidance and supervision of third-grade teacher Taylar Powis and Principal Sister Irene Pryle, 23 third graders are reading the books written by the students from the Matenwa Community Learning Center in Haiti. The books are displayed on screen because of the COVID-19 book regulations. One of the books they read was Our Dream. The students spent time comparing their dreams with the dreams of the students in Haiti. and discovered that they shared dreams, such as becoming a doctor, a nurse, a soccer player, a motorcycle rider, and so forth. One particular dream of the Haitian students is to one day find a cure for cholera. The students at Our Lady of Hope/St. Luke spent some time researching and learning about cholera. Perhaps they will find the cure together! 

The very curious, observant, and astute students also noticed the similarity in the spelling of some words in Creole and in English; language, as we know, is one aspect of interculturality. It is always a delight and a sign of care and sensitivity to a person’s culture when we are in their own language. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages identified the ability to communicate with respect and cultural understanding as an essential element of global competency. Even though the students are not learning the Haitian Creole language per se, they are still demonstrating some necessary intercultural skills. They are observant, reflective, curious, respectful, and open-minded, and they are broadening their knowledge of the world.

St Peter the Apostle School
St Peter the Apostle School

St. Peter the Apostle

At St. Peter the Apostle, the first, second, and third grade students, under the supervision of their teachers, respectively Connie Milek, Susan Salamone, and Debbie Krysztoforski, have been engaged in the same process. The teachers have used videos and other resources that highlight the lives of children in Haiti to prepare the students. This project has been a learning experience for the students in many ways. They have learned that not all children in the world have the same resources as they have. First grade teacher Connie Milek explained this about her first-grade students: “In many ways it was eye opening for the students to learn Our Lady of Hope/St. Luke School St. Peter the Apostle School 3 about kids who are not as privileged as they are. They are always losing pencils and crayons, which are automatically replaced. They’ve learned that not everyone has the resources we have.”

The second graders select the books that are meaningful for them. They have already read several books such as The Goat and the Cow, Wheat Experiment, and The Ferry. Susan Salamone, the second-grade teacher told us that “This experience is an opportunity that our kids are having to learn about other cultures. Because of COVID, our students are lacking contact with others. Reading these books written by Haitian students is an easy way to bring different cultures to our students. The kids are losing contact not just with each other, but also with the outside world because of Covid. This is a great opportunity to connect the children with the outside world especially now that we are so distant from each other. It is better to bring the culture to them. These books are doing that. They allow the students to appreciate the differences and similarities between U.S. based students and Haitian students.”

Our Lady of Hope and St Luke School
Our Lady of Hope/St Luke School

One particular book that is a favorite of the second graders is the book about agriculture. “They love the book,” said Susan. “They’ve learned about how Haitians depend on agriculture. In addition. each book written by a Haitian student has pictures of the author, which the students here also love. The pictures showing the face of each author make the person real”.

The third-grade students did not waste any time in taking the next steps with this project. They have already written several books. Nineteen have written 15 books that are already illustrated. Among the 15 book titles are, The Mystery Sisters, My First Day at School, Olivia and her Cat, and Grace and her Puppy Sofie, and Goldie the Sea Turtle.

Even though some of the children were inspired by the content of the books written by Haitian students, the St. Peter’s students were very creative in coming up with their own titles. Their books will go through a process including getting them translated into Creole and French, before they are finally delivered to the students at the MCLC.

Like the students at Our Lady of Hope/St. Luke, the students at St. Peter the Apostle are very curious. They are developing their intercultural awareness through this project. They’ve learned about different tools that are used in agriculture in Haiti that they have never seen because they live in the city and don’t have access to these tools. They have learned about the difference in the day-to-day routines of their lives and the lives of Haitian students; they are also learning about the Creole language. They’ve also found similar activities that they as well as Haitian students enjoy, like climbing a tree.

St. Martha at Bishop Nevin Academy

St Peter the Apostle School
St Peter the Apostle School

Sister Cathy Bonfield teaches at St. Martha at Bishop Nevin Academy in Sarasota, FL. Sister Cathy has been working on a broader intercultural project with her students at the Academy. It involves looking, not just at the lives of children in Haiti, but also children in countries in Africa and Hungary. She has invited some SSNDs, including Sister Limeteze, to join her class and talk to her students. Sister Cathy has created a very comprehensive lesson plan to teach the students about the lives of children in Haiti. The Our Lady of Hope/St. Luke School 4 plan involves several videos about the history of Haiti, from Haiti’s independence as the first black nation to win its independence from France. The older students will read the books written by the students in Haiti to younger students at the Academy.

This intercultural pilot project with these three U.S.-based schools, and the Matenwa School in Haiti, is a work in progress. Even though the school year has been greatly impacted by the Coronavirus, the teachers and principals are very engaged and working diligently to help broaden their students’ intercultural awareness through this type of exposure. Our hope is that this project will enrich teachers, principals, and the wider school communities, as it has the students who have been actively participating in the project. The Haiti Collaboration Committee will keep the province informed of progress as this intercultural pilot project evolves.

May we each be open to how the Spirit is moving among us in the area of intercultural learning and experience!

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