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Revere teacher shares lessons from Haiti

5/31/2012 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Revere Middle School foreign language teacher Veronica Moss assisted in a classroom at Sonlight Academy in Port-de-Paix, Haiti, during a mission trip there. Her skills in French were put to good use on the trip, she said.
Teacher Veronica Moss is shown helping two Haitian children during her trip.
Photos courtesy of Veronica Moss
RICHFIELD — A life-changing trip to Haiti is helping Revere Middle School (RMS) teacher Veronica Moss teach lessons she learned there to her students.

Moss got to explore the area during her visit to Haiti.
Moss, a Firestone Park resident who has been the foreign language teacher at RMS for six years, had the opportunity to travel to Port-de-Paix on the northern coast of Haiti on a mission trip with members of her church, Rivertree Christian Church in Massillon, Feb. 10-20.

For Moss, who teaches French and Spanish, the trip was the chance to use her French language skills to help people living in the county that is still feeling the devastating effects of the January 2010 earthquake there.

She said 33 countries have French as an official language, and one of the things she has tried to do with her students is show them that the French language is not just something used in Paris.

“National French Week is in November, so I’ve tried to teach them about different places that speak French,” she said. “I did research on different countries, and Haiti was one of them.”

When the chance to go on the trip came up, Moss said she jumped at the chance. Her husband, with whom she has five children ranging in age from 2 to 13, gave her his blessing, she said. On the trip, she was one of 19 people and the only one who spoke French, she said.

Her immediate impression of the country was a positive one, she said.

“We walked off of the plane outside, and there was a band playing Haitian music and singing,” she said.

But once the group entered the airport, the reality of everyday life in the country was evident. There was no power in the building and a sense of disorder as the group waited to be processed.

“There was a lot of waiting, which is something I have problems with, so I talked to people in the airport, and observed signs and the way people talked to each other. They were animated and friendly,” she said. “When we got outside, it was mass chaos. People were trying to take our luggage to help us. Our leader said to ignore them, but I wanted to talk to people. What we could see was a bunch of rubble, concrete and trash all around.”

The group was there to work specifically with a school, Sonlight Academy. Moss had the chance to work with the French teacher and help teach spelling and grade papers, she said. She also helped at a Valentine’s Day party, for which she brought Valentines made by her students and treats such as crayons and Silly Bandz.

The students learn English at the school, but their native language is French, she said, so she enjoyed being able to speak to them.

Other people in the group worked on construction projects at the school, she said.

The school is supported by donors who make it possible for the students to attend, Moss said. It costs the equivalent of about $24 U.S. dollars a month for supplies and uniforms per child, she said.

“So many kids do not get to go to school because right now their public education [system] is nonexistent,” Moss said, citing a statistic that just one in five school-age children attends school.

After the school day, the group got to explore the area on hikes and also visited an orphanage.

Overall, Moss said the trip helped inspire her to teach her Revere students about the value of learning a foreign language.

“I want to tell them you are not just learning the language; you are learning this as a tool to be a better citizen and understand people in their culture,” she said. “I got so much more out of relationships because I could speak the language. It was wonderful being able to do that. I got to hear a Haitian history lesson in French, from their perspective. There’s nothing like that.”

At the end of the trip, Moss became ill, most likely from the water, she said. She ended up losing about 12 pounds and spent several weeks recuperating. Despite that challenge, Moss said the experience of the trip was worthwhile.

“As soon as I got back home, I wanted to go back,” she said. “I felt so fulfilled by the students just being so eager to learn. That’s what they want, to learn things. So now I’m writing letters to the students.

“I would go back in a second,” she added. “I think that’s what I’m meant to do.”

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