ON Labor Day, while local schools enjoyed a day off, I was privileged to witness the start of a new year at Cowman School in Vaudreuil, Haiti.
In many ways the scene appeared like that of any school here in the United States.
Haitian students showed up lugging backpacks, lunchboxes and water bottles. They were bubbling with a sense of anticipation and anxiety. Teachers warmly greeted students and showed them to their classrooms, where posters adorned the walls and bulletin boards offered key learning points.
At 8 a.m., a bell rang and students took their seats.
But the bell was not some electronic buzz.
The handheld bell was powered only by vigorous shaking from Mrs. Z, a 70-something missionary who teaches first- and second-graders.
I was on site to begin my new job as a high school teacher for Cowman, this small mission school serving a mix of missionary kids and local Haitian children. I came for two weeks to bring classroom supplies, get to know my students and create a foundation on which I could continue to build from here in Indiana the rest of the semester.
My students will learn French and Spanish on site, work on language arts with me via email, and take all other core classes through an Internet curriculum called Ignitia.
I got to see firsthand what a challenge this may present. American teachers are well aware that technology will let you down when timing is most inconvenient. In Haiti, it is not just high-tech gadgets but anything powered by electricity.
Each morning I spent at Cowman, the electricity would cut out completely from 9:30 a.m. to noon, leaving classrooms without overhead lighting and, more importantly, without fans. During that time, we use a portable, diesel-powered generator and a mess of extension cords, one running to each classroom.
So you can imagine how nervous it made me to be in charge of a class almost completely dependent on a strong, steady Internet connection. In fact, we were six days into the school year before Access Haiti installed a satellite dish — in a tall tree behind the school building. One worker scrambled up the tree with a machete to clear away any branches interfering with the signal.
So what did I do with my students during our six school days before the Internet connection was established? I wrote out assignments on an antique green chalkboard. The class took notes and wrote essays with pencils on paper. I taught reading and writing skills.
That’s right: I taught without the use of technology. Who would guess that was even still possible?
Steve Gross is a former 10th-grade English teacher at Hauser High School who teaches secondary level English in Haiti.
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