Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Lighting the Way in Haiti

Edina students make a difference on a global scale. Thank you to the teachers and parents who make service learning experiences like this one an important, integrated component of learning in Edina Public Schools.   
Ric Dressen @EdinaSuper

The distance between Normandale French Immersion Elementary and Lougou, Haiti is much shorter than you’d think. Cassie Avignon, Normandale's Science Paraprofessional, hails from Haiti. Along with teacher Sophie Toner, she has expanded Normandale third graders' world by sharing the challenges of children in Lougou, a rural village of approximately 1500 people. The situation there is not a direct result of the earthquake of 2010, but has always been isolated and difficult. Slowly, the community is building itself up. The community established a school in 2006, and now has two pre-k classes, a kindergarten, first grade and second grade. The plan is to add a class every year up to sixth grade and beyond.

Last fall, the Normandale third graders learned about Haiti and thought about the challenges and how they could help. Normandale students decided to plan their own Vide-grenier (garage sale) for this winter to raise funds to buy supplies for the school. They decided to purchase hand-crank flashlights for the students, so they can practice reading at night even without electricity. They also decided to make shadow-books for the students to read with their flashlights.

Over the last several months, the Normandale students carefully planned this event, which took place on February 15 in the  gym. With their families donating used toys, books, and games, the children practiced all the roles needed for the sale to happen successfully. They made posters in French, learned essential phrases for shopping, selling, making purchases, and giving change correctly.  Role playing was done before the big day so each student could handle their 30 minute cashier shift, sans probleme. In addition to using their math skills, the process of collecting items, sorting, pricing, and organizing the merchandise used practical life skills. Naturellement, this was all done en francais

Because Ms. Avignon is the liaison between these two communities, this service learning project has been very personal. She can show the detailed needs of the children in Haiti, and the Edina students have taken ownership of the project from the beginning. In total, the garage sale far exceeded expectations, raising $1,388.35. Students are now meeting to discuss how they will use the additional funds to benefit students in Lougou. Ideas include purchasing raincoats for students, who often walk two hours to get to school, and either arrive at school sopping wet or don't come to school at all on rainy days. They may also be able to purchase furniture for a new classroom for older students, and they look forward to developing a long-lasting relationship with this French-speaking community.

This accomplishment of planning an event start to finish with a charitable outcome gets kudos from all involved. Even though some books and toys may have just found different homes in Edina, items were in fact re-cycled. This is an extra benefit of American kids learning to part with some of their stuff so their French speaking peers many miles away can have the stuff they truly need. C’est tres bien!

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