Displaced Haitian Children Enroll In Florida School

The aftermath of January’s earthquake in Haiti prompted many families there to send their children to the safety of Florida. The International School of Broward is a French Immersion school that recently welcomed dozens of students from Haiti. Host Lynn Neary talks with Jacquelyne Hoy, co-founder and executive director of the school, about how the students are coping in their new environment.

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LYNN NEARY, host:

I'm Lynn Neary, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

Coming up, music from the multi-platinum, multiethnic musical group The Black Eyed Peas. But first, another series of aftershocks rocked Haiti earlier this week, knocking down some of the structures left standing in the wake of last month's deadly earthquake. Among those watching news of these latest aftershocks with concern were a group of young students - young Haitian students who survived last month's devastating earthquake that killed more than 200,000. These young people were able to get out of Haiti and are now attending schools in Florida. The largest group of students is at the International School of Broward, a French-language, immersion charter school.

Joining us now is Jacquelyne Hoy, cofounder and executive director of the school. Welcome to the program.

Ms. JACQUELYNE HOY (Co-Founder and Executive Director, International School of Broward): Thank you, Lynn, for having me.

NEARY: Now, maybe you can explain to us exactly how it was that the students were able to get to your school and to attend your school?

Ms. HOY: Well, I think some of them were able to leave Haiti via Dominican Republic to come to the United States. Most of them are American citizens or resident aliens, and they were able to come into Florida.

NEARY: So who are these kids, exactly? What's their background? Where do they -you said most of them are American citizens. Are they Haitians who are American citizens? Or...

Ms. HOY: Yes. They are Haitians who are American citizens, and I think their parents decided to go back to Haiti and live in Haiti. And these students were able to come to Miami.

NEARY: How are they coping? This is a lot of upheaval for young people to go through, first to experience this terrible earthquake, and then to leave their homes, come to Florida. Have they let their families behind? What's their situation like?

Ms. HOY: Academically, they're doing very well. Emotionally, you can see that they are having a hard time because most of them are not staying with their parents. They're staying with family members. They are very concerned about Haiti. Like yesterday, I think that there was an aftershock of 4.7. Immediately, they left class to go to the main office to find out. And we could see on their faces the fear. And I think throughout the day, some of them were reported to have stomach pains and coming to the office, wanting to go home.

So you can see that they - a lot of emotional pain, but they are doing their best academically, which is a positive for our students, because they're able to see that in spite of all of this, these students are still wanting to do better in school and wanting to survive and to succeed and to do well.

NEARY: These students - are they getting any counseling?

Ms. HOY: Well, this is one of the problems that we have right now. We have an overwhelming and influx of students in our school. And we are trying to get the resources for these students. And we had these students in our school since the first week of February. However, we have not received any funding from Broward County Public Schools for the additional students. We will not receive funding until April, the month of April. So the school is now struggling, trying to provide the additional services, to charge additional books, additional staff for ESOL classes, as well as counseling.

And we are having a hard time right now doing that because we will not receive any funding for these students until the month of April.

NEARY: How is your staff, then, dealing with this influx of students?

Ms. HOY: Well, the staff...

NEARY: I think there's - what - there's 47 of them. Is that right?

Ms. HOY: Yes, about that. The staff has been amazing. They are trying their best to accommodate these students. Some of them are making copies of books, which requires additional planning, to assist the students. But overall, the staff is doing their best. They're trying to assist them academically and emotionally, because we all want to work together to make them comfortable and not have to deal with the lot of issues since they have some much to deal with right now.

NEARY: I wanted to ask about your school. It's a French immersion school. That means that everybody's speaking French at all times, as I understand it. Now do - many of the Haitians, do they speak their own dialect? Are you speaking the same French? Are there any language problems there?

Ms. HOY: Well, our school has two tracks. We have the French immersion track and a regular track in which - you know, it would be English. Our school follows the French curriculum. So the language that they speak is French, not Creole. And these students in the tribe(ph), they speak French among themselves. Of course, in the lunchroom, you can hear them speak Creole to themselves, but in the classroom itself, the instruction is in French for the students in the French tribe.

NEARY: So overall, how would you access the effect that this group of students is having on your school?

Ms. HOY: It's been positive for the students, for our students. Our students are seeing how these students are behaving in class. How they are hard worker, wanting to learn and the level of the students that we have from Haiti, it's very high. And this is giving them an opportunity to work better. And one of the students told me, well, now I have competition in the classroom, Dr. Hoy. I have to work harder and I have to be better.

NEARY: Jacquelyne Hoy is cofounder and executive director of the International School of Broward. It's a charter school with a full immersion French program. Thanks for being with us today, Ms. Hoy.

Ms. HOY: Thank you.

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