It’s a relationship that dates back to the early 2000s, and today Duncanville ISD’s connection with the community of Zoranger, Haiti continues through the work of Smith Elementary teacher Merilee Barrington. She traveled overseas in November 2011 to help host a workshop for Haitian teachers. “I have been several times, and thought it would be a great opportunity to share ideas,” Barrington commented. “We taught a group of approximately 100 teachers about the 5E lesson plan, Blooms taxonomy, hands-on science, literacy groups, and thinking maps.”
Duncanville ISD’s relationship with Zoranger began through the work of former Kennemer Middle School French teacher Louis Adam. A native of Haiti, he established a pen-pal program between Kennemer students and a school in Haiti. Adam is also responsible for Haiti’s first UIL-type soccer league. “In 2007, I approached Duncanville’s Athletic Director Kevin Ozee about starting a soccer program on the island,” he explained. “Mr. Ozee responded generously by donating used cleats, t-shirts, shorts, etc. That first league reached about 18 schools and 450 athletes.”
When a devastating earthquake hit Haiti in January 2010, Adam’s class was one of many across the district to launch a donation drive for disaster relief. Their Pennies for Port-Au-Prince campaign collected nearly $6,500, which was sent to the Hope for Haiti Foundation. Barrington connected with Adam at church and was asked to participate in the workshop overseas. “Haiti is very special to me, and I was so excited to be asked to share my teaching experience,” she said. “They really do not have any formal training over there. They just accept the job and do what they think is best. Our goal was to share ideas with them and teach them how to write a lesson that would benefit kids.”
Hoping to benefit them in designing fun, engaging work, Barrington and four other Best Southwest teachers taught their “students” how to think outside the box and get creative with their lessons. They also served the Haitian teachers lunch during the two-day workshop and presented them with gift bags containing items donated by Smith Elementary. “I asked my kindergarten students to send in school supplies, games, and craft supplies that I could take to give to the teachers to use with their kids,” commented Barrington. “I got enough stuff to fill three suitcases. The bags were a big hit!”
But supplies weren’t the only things that Haitian teachers walked away with – Barrington says that they were very receptive to the new ideas, had lots of positive comments, and were ready to plan another workshop. While in Haiti, Barrington also served in several other capacities – she spent time at a special needs orphanage, conducted a rice feeding in the village of Kanez, and appeared on a radio talk show to promote the teacher workshop. Building friendships and gaining the trust of educators throughout the country, Barrington is already planning a trip for March 2012 that will focus on implementing Character Counts programs into Haitian schools.
While she won’t be able to travel overseas in March, Barrington will return to Haiti in July. Until then, she’s incorporating Haitian culture into her classroom. “I try to use Creole with my kids not only to help me learn the language better, but also because they enjoy learning something new,” she said. “I also use pictures as writing prompts to show them the differences between our culture and Haiti’s.”