A year filled with tears, fears, and changing gears

The 2019-2020 school year is one Andris Sanon, director of Grace Emmanuel School, will not forget.

“I’ve worked as an educator for 24 years in Haiti,” he recounts, “and I’ve never encountered a year like this, to just get out of a political lockdown and fall into COVID-19.”

In addition, the GES community has mourned the loss of three young students over the last 10 weeks.

First closure (October & November)

The academic year had hardly kicked off before political unrest brought it to a halt at the end of September.

Initially after school was forced to close, Andris had hoped to at least keep instructing the 16 9th graders and 18 seniors prepping for government exams. But even these secret lessons stopped abruptly when a handful of students were bullied on their way back home, and Grace Emmanuel was named in written threats.

Continuing to improvise, Andris and the administration brainstormed. “We started to work out a program to give the kids a series of important chapters from textbooks,” Andris said. “Then when the students returned to school, the teachers could practice with them on the chapters they had studied in their houses.”

Before that could be implemented, a tenuous peace returned to Haiti, and school resumed in December. The school year shifted from quarters to trimesters, exams were rewritten, and curriculum condensed.

It seemed the school year would be salvaged.

Students grateful to be at school in January.

Closed again

In March, with the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Haiti, the government shuttered schools again, with one trimester complete, and the second one nearing exams.

Will this troubled academic year just be scrapped? Andris says no.

According to the local school district office, where Andris spends much of his time lately, the government still plans to give its 9th grade and senior exams this summer.

“The government has also decreed that students in third grade and under will automatically pass to the next grade level next year,” he said. “Beyond that, the government has yet to say. Provided we can resume to finish the year, we will plan to test on second trimester as soon as possible, and squeeze in a third trimester.” The school would then base this year’s grade on an average of the three trimesters.

If classes can’t resume, GES may just advance all the primary students (through 6th grade) up a grade level, but also move their teachers up with them. The teacher could resume where work left off the previous year while transitioning quickly into the curriculum for the new grade level.

Learning at home

Andris says students are able to learn from home right now—albeit on a very limited basis.

“The students can read their lessons,” said Andris. “They can work on a little chalkboard or notebook paper to practice math.” The school also provided seniors with a compilation of past state exams so they can get comfortable with the types of questions on the test. Andris stays in communication with the seniors via a “WhatsApp” group.

In addition, the government of Haiti has been broadcasting lessons over the radio and launched an online learning platform. Online learning requires tools unavailable to most GES students, making the radio lessons more accessible.

Gayou, 2nd kindergartener, passed away from an unknown illness on February 17.
Lenslie, 1st grader, passed away from complications of a respiratory illness on March 7.
Jerry, 3rd grader, passed away from cancer on April 20.

Grieving

Mixed into the trauma of Haiti’s insecurity, economic woes, and virus fears, the GES community is also grieving the unprecedented deaths of three young students.

“When I go to the funerals as the school director, the child’s family is crying, telling me I’ve lost the work I had started,” Andris shares. “When I look at the child lying in the coffin, I weep. It’s very sad. These are losses that can’t be replaced.”

Andris continues, “That is why we must continue to teach children the word of God, so they can know God better through His word.

“We don’t understand it, but we can only say that all things are working for the good of those who love God.”

Kristi

Kristi Bucher serves as Communications Manager for Jesus in Haiti Ministries. She currently lives in Minnesota with her husband, Nathan, and daughter, Ruby, and travels to Haiti as frequently as possible. Kristi and Nathan lived in Haiti from 2012–2014.