Hampton teacher helps students connect with Haitian children

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A classroom in La Croix, Haiti, is 1,500 miles from Hampton, but students from Poff Elementary School have bridged the distance with friendship.

Elizabeth Farrell, art and enrichment support teacher at Poff, traveled on a mission trip in late January and took supplies her students had collected to a school at the New Testament Mission.

Before she departed, Ms. Farrell  worked with the youngsters on special projects and taught units about Haiti to bring an educational component to the project.

The  idea for the project began when Ms. Farrell, 31, of Ohio Township, learned of mission trips to Haiti through family friend Laurie Adams. Ms. Adams, of Pine, has traveled  to Haiti several times since the earthquake in 2010.

“I went on five trips in 2013," Ms. Adams said. "I have been very blessed and really feel a calling to go.”

Ms. Adams, a nurse, put together a trip in June in conjunction with Zion United Methodist Church in Sarver, so Ms. Farrell could go without missing school.

During her  trip, Ms. Farrell served as a medical assistant to the nurses, doctors and therapists who cared for individuals surrounding the La Croix Mission.

“Once I started thinking about ways to bring Haiti into the classroom, I couldn’t stop coming up with ideas. There were just so many ways to get my kids involved,” she said.

When Ms. Adams began planning the January trip, Ms. Farrell approached Mike Mooney, principal at Poff Elementary, who thought it was a great idea.

“Elizabeth is always looking for innovative ideas to teach the children. Plus, she already does a community service project where she collects supplies for women’s homeless shelters in December. This took it one step further,” he said.

Ms. Farrell received school board approval to travel during school and started working with students on projects related to Haiti and her trip.

Art students made Haitian necklaces, other students created math and reading flashcards and children  in the enrichment program completed research papers about Haiti. French Club members at the high school worked with students in grades 4 and 5 to write letters in French to the children at the school.

Ms. Farrell taught lessons about Haiti, often using her photos from her first trip to show the students what life was like in the small island country.

“She also told them about the earthquake, and the students really wanted to get involved," Mr. Mooney said. 

They started collecting school supplies.

“I decided to only collect for a week. Since we had done so many collections at Christmas, I didn’t think the students would really be that interested. I couldn’t believe how much we collected,” Ms. Farrell said.

There was so much that Ms. Farrell couldn’t take it all with her. The additional items will be sent on future trips. 

When Ms. Farrell was in Haiti, she shared the necklaces, flashcards and supplies with the Haitian children and educators. “The children were so excited to get the necklaces and loved the fact that the students' names who made their necklaces were on them,” she said.

Ms. Farrell paid the $1,500 to $2,000 for the trip herself.

“It is such a wonderful experience and now that we did the educational component, I really hope to keep it going,” she said.

Students in the English Club at La Croix Mission are replying to the letters from the Poff children, and Ms. Farrell said she plans to continue teaching about Haiti for the rest of the year.

Mr. Mooney said Ms. Farrell and some of the Poff students also will make a presentation to the school board to discuss the educational project.

Ms. Farrell said she hopes students will be able to Skype with their new friends in Haiti in the future.

“I just couldn’t believe the support from the district and my students,” she said.

The project has been great for the Poff students as well, Mr. Mooney said. "They learned so many things in and out of the classroom.”

Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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