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Language Link Helps Haitian Teens Adapt to US School

  • Alex Villarreal

Thousands of Haitians sought refuge in the United States after last year's devastating earthquake in Haiti. Many are young people, now enrolled in U.S. schools, surrounded by a new language and culture. One high school in Florida is helping the students adjust.

It's a typical school day at Boyd Anderson High School in South Florida. But Kerby Edme is not a typical student.

Kerby Edme

Kerby Edme

"Right after I jumped to the other roof, the house collapsed," he recalls.

Kerby is one of about 25 Haitian earthquake survivors enrolled here.

"The teachers were very patient with us," he says, "because some of us, we didn't speak English before we came here."

Principal Angel Almanzar observed other challenges.

"Lack of knowledge about the American education system. Feeling isolated," Almanzar explains.

To combat that isolation, the school has joined with the New York-based French Heritage Language Program to expand classes in French, the main language taught in Haitian schools.

Teacher Mathieu Daquin, Haitian himself, calls the classes therapeutic.

"It's like Little Haiti within a school. This is where they feel at home," he notes.

For Endieula St. Jean, that comfort is critical.

Endieula St. Jean

Endieula St. Jean

"When I came to the United States, I was very, very, very angry, nervous, because I [couldn't] speak English," she explains. "All I [could] say was 'Good morning' and 'Good afternoon.' That's all."

But even the most successful Haitian students still struggle. Paul Alceste Zamor got the highest possible score on the college-level French Advanced Placement test before graduating earlier this year.

Now he is in limbo, awaiting temporary protected immigration status so he can go college in the U.S.

Paul Alceste Zamor

Paul Alceste Zamor

"I cry sometimes," he admits, "because I see all the things I did... When I came to the school, I studied very hard to be at the top 10 percent of my class, and then now, I can’t go to school."

For Zamor, going to college is not just for him, but for his country.

"I want to be a good surgeon, and then go back to Haiti to help people there," he says.

It's a goal other students share.

"Every Haitian, even [if] they weren't there when the earthquake happened, I think they have in mind to go [be] successful," says student Kerby Edme, "and then do something for the country, even a little bit, because when it all comes together, it makes a big thing."

Until then, they'll stay close to their homeland through learning...and language.