After January’s massive earthquake, thousands of Haitians fled to the United States. More than 2,500 of them were school-aged kids who were quickly placed in classrooms across South Florida.
The new students were suddenly immersed in a foreign language, culture, and school system. It could have been a bewildering experience. But at Boyd Anderson High School in Lauderdale Lakes, the Haitian students who lived in South Florida before the quake took the recent arrivals under their wings.
They became friends and mentors to their new peers– showing them where to find the cafeteria, explaining school rules, decoding unfamiliar slang and providing moral support. Teachers and students call it an “ambassadors program.” Click the player above to listen to the story.
Under the Sun producers Sammy Mack and Trina Sargalski worked with Boyd Anderson High students Michel Philco and James Celestin to produce this story. Over a period of several weeks, Philco and Celestin interviewed each other and their teachers. They also collected sounds from around their school.
This was our first experiment in producing radio with the help of teenagers. Under the Sun is grateful to Philco and Celestin for their help. We also thank the other students in the Boyd Anderson High ambassadors program for their contributions and their teachers, Islande Saint Louis and Jenna Moniz, for their help coordinating this project. You can listen to interviews from some of the other Boyd Anderson ambassadors here.
UPDATE, ONE YEAR AFTER THE QUAKE:
A few more students arrived from Haiti this school year and became part of the “ambassadors program” at Boyd Anderson Senior High.
Students who were new to Boyd Anderson last school year became Ambassadors to the new students this year.
Islande Saint Louis, who teaches English for Speakers of Other Languages, says that the group in the ambassadors program is doing “extremely well because I keep on top of them. You can’t tell they are different because most of the children who came to Boyd Anderson after the earthquake were already on target, so they went through the process of acculturation very fast.”
James Celestin transferred to another school in Broward. Ms. Saint Louis says that his family’s situation improved and that James and his mother were able to move to their own place. They previously lived with an aunt.
We were unable to get in touch with Michel Philco for an update.
Do Ms. Saint Louis’s students talk much about the earthquake? “Every now and then they will talk about the earthquake, especially the cholera outbreak in Haiti, so that revives everything, ” says Ms. Saint Louis, “They feel blessed to be here but for example, one student’s parents went to Haiti and then they had to make sure they didn’t have the disease before they returned to the U.S., and the student was nervous about when the parents would be able to return home. You know kids–they run around with their friends and if something comes up, then they’ll talk about it.”
Under the Sun plans to expand on our work with young people and radio. Look for more youth-produced pieces in the coming year.