District moves forward with Haitian distance learning experience

By Candace Barczyk

Vermilion Board of Education members voted to approve $1,500 for VES teacher Lisa Murray to go to Haiti to bridge a distance learning experience between Vermilion students and those of the Aart van Wingerden School in Haiti.

Former Vermilion School Supt. Bruce Keller, along with Murray, a second-grade teacher at Vermilion Elementary, gave a presentation to board members about the Haitian school’s computer lab, which was set up three years ago. Keller has been on numerous trips to Haiti and came to the board several years ago about forming a distance learning experience between the schools. The two entities began an online connection, and the presentation for a teacher top go to Haiti is one of a “teach the teacher,” whereby Murray would come back and share her education with other staff.

Mr. Keller said the Haitian school is private and is a 200-acre campus that houses 550 students. Its computer lab has 30 stations, and Keller gave a PowerPoint presentation to show with whom local students would be connecting.  “Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and this school has children from pre-K to Grade 13. They speak four different languages – French, Spanish, English and Creole. We had some wonderful interactions with Kellie Pancost’s VHS English class, and VHS instructor Cristen Schneid taught an art class. Due to the in-house leadership, we had some great experiences for Vermilion kids. They were embracing, in an intimate way with other students what we can connect with. They are simply overwhelmed.” Keller said unlike in the U.S., not everyone in Haiti goes to school, and many walk hours to and from class.

Murray was one of three teachers interested in going to Haiti and has been one of the leaders at the elementary school in distance learning. She has had her classes complete several distance learning activities such as a Mystery Skype. “We like the students to compare communities and look for cultural aspects. They have had experience with other schools where they have communicated with only affluent students, and those with just boys in the school. They also see that not every school has English as a first language, and they have to listen and wait for a translator,” she said. “We want to go beyond out classroom, beyond what is expected.”

“The future is now – they have to connect.”

Keller said the flight, which the board’s approval will pay for, is a one-time cost with no recurring costs attached to it. Murray would be on site 2-3 days in Haiti, depending on when flights could go in and out. He estimated it would occur in late October or the first week of November but would give the board a better idea later. Supt. Phil said he wished all three teachers interested could go but said this offers a great educational opportunity for the district. Keller said there is “zero problem” with the other two staff members interested in going about only one flight being funded.

Board member Sara Stepp said she was at one of the distance learning experiences with students from Australia. “It was absolutely phenomenal.”

Keller said upon their return, he and Murray would come back and give the board a report.

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