Seventy teachers representing ten schools on the island participated in Starfysh’s 2021 Summer Teachers Conference on July 12-16. Despite challenges along the way, including the closing down entry into and exit from the country in the days prior (due to the assassination of Haiti’s President), the event was conducted on time and without a hitch. Director of Education, Penny Beatty, and International Ministries of Hope Director, Dominique Guerrier, teamed up to lead our most well-attended teachers conference to date.

We started holding teacher trainings in the Starfysh guesthouse several years ago. From the very beginning we realized the high value that La Gonave school teachers place on their own education in their hunger to be more effective in the classroom, preparing students for a more prosperous future. Over time these conferences have grown in size and popularity. When participants began to pack into tight quarters of the guesthouse and spill out onto the guesthouse balcony we knew a move was necessary.

Unfortunately, the Covid pandemic prevented us from conducting our Summer 2020 event. But by the time this year rolled around we were ready, and with the completion of Life Garden outdoor teaching pavilion we were able to grow the event. The decision to proceed with the conference in the immediate days following the assassination of their President was made with much care and, ultimately, was the decision of our Haitian counterparts.

Each day had a different emphases in equipping teachers to teach better. Day 1, for example, focused on methods for teaching reading. Penny shares the following account of how the conference began:

“After welcoming everyone and making introductions, we started off with giving condolences for the murder of their President.  We talked about how difficult the 2020-21 school year likely was for each of us, but that in all the Covid mess, there were reasons to celebrate. We did something called “Chalk Talk ” where we wrote the word “Celebrate” in the middle of a big sheet of paper on each table. The main rule was that teachers could not talk!!!  They could just write some things they could celebrate about the past year, they could respond to what others (at their own table) wrote by writing a response to that writing. Finally, when they were done at their table, they then got up, marker in hand, and walked around to READ what others wrote. They still could not talk, but could read and respond in writing to what others had written. There were 10 tables and so people walked around for some time, quietly reading and responding to what they read. We hung these sheets up around the venue and then talked about this activity. It was only meant to be a short conversation around this activity, but it actually started a debate about the value of an activity like this in a classroom and how teachers might use this with an academic concept. It was a much better conversation/debate than I could have planned. At first, some teachers said that they would not use this in their classroom. But then some deep thinkers came up and talked about how this would benefit shy students less likely to share their thinking verbally. Others talked about how an activity like this might deepen the thinking of their students. Others talked about how this could be used as an assessment of student understanding of concepts. What was supposed to be just an opening activity turned out to be so much more than that. This also brought us into the day’s topic of reading because it came up how much reading and writing was done in one simple activity.”

Other topics of the week included teaching handwriting, phonics, phonemic awareness (sounding out letters to form words, etc), positive discipline, the use of teaching “tools,” etc. Life Garden agronomist, Natalie Matthieu presented a talk about the importance of school gardens which was followed by a field trip to one of our nearby schools that has a handsome garden space and chicken hatchery.

Please pray for our teachers as they prepare for the start of school in a few weeks, that they would realize the great value they serve in preparing Haiti’s future leaders.