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Haiti: Infrastructure and Political Risk

What should one understand about the potential for political risk and follow-on impact on the school?

Though non-profit work in a developing economy is never a certain proposition, Haiti is currently subject to a democratic government, elected after a national election. It receives support from the international community and international aid agencies as the only country in the Americas that is considered one of the “Least Developed Nations;” is a member of various regional organizations (Association of Caribbean States, Caricom); and is working to create stronger and more stable relations with its neighbor, the Dominican Republic.

In addition, we believe that proper implementation of risk mitigation strategies is the most effective approach toward creating stability and predictability; and this strategy has served us well in our experience. We have working experience in Haiti through our staff and board and have significant relationships with other NGOs and governmental organizations.

Does the school rely on local police persons?

As a member of the larger Mirebalais and local Boyer communities, we partner with our local law enforcement personnel, as appropriate. We also maintain our own security personnel for property and student protection.

Do bribery and corruption play a role in Haiti, which would affect your operations?

It is the policy of L’Ecole de Choix not to engage in any facilitating payments of any kind, and to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Our financial transactions are reported to our accountants, and independent financial statements are issued and audited on an annual basis.

Are there infrastructure issues that affect school operations?

Regarding physical infrastructure, L’Ecole de Choix is relatively independent of its surrounding municipality. For instance, when our municipal access road became unusable, we constructed our own road in order to permit construction to proceed.

As with other institutions in Haiti, L’Ecole de Choix is subject to Haiti’s weather (including natural disasters), which impacts the ability of our students and faculty to attend school, as well as our ability to access supplies on a regular basis. However, over the course of our history, we have always been successful in offering a full year of school days sufficient to satisfy the Ministry, and also have found ways to access supplies, as needed.

On what type of energy does the school rely? Are outages to be expected?

The school maintains coverage using four types of energy supply: the Mirebalais electrical grid, our own generator, battery power, and solar power. Each is used for different purposes, at different times and has different costs related to it.

Haiti’s Educational Landscape

When was Choix established?

The groundbreaking for Choix’s physical campus happened about one year after the Haiti earthquake, in early Spring 2011. While funds were raised over the course of the prior year, issues with land ownership delayed the start of construction and a second property needed to be secured. However, once the final property was identified, building commenced and there is no disputing the beauty of the Choix campus!

Choix held its first day of classes on Tuesday October 18, 2011.

Explain national/federal support for schools.

While Haiti’s Constitution mandates free universal education, Haiti’s government currently is not financially equipped to achieve this promise. Nearly half of Haiti’s children do not attend schools and the country has a literacy rate of only about 53 percent. While the government supports a small number of schools, 90 percent of the schools in Haiti are operated by private entities, including religious institutions, NGOs and other international organizations. Fewer than 30 percent of Haitian youth graduate from 6th grade, which also causes a lack of qualified teachers.

The 2010 earthquake destroyed approximately half of the nation’s schools and affected the three main universities in Port au Prince (including a devastating loss in faculty and staff), forcing families to seek alternatives elsewhere. The Ministry of Education, itself, was left in rubbles and without leadership. In the year immediately following the earthquake, only 57 schools were rebuilt, according to the interagency education cluster.

Do families have to pay for schooling? How much?

Families generally pay for schooling in Haiti at a rate of 1000 Haitian gourdes per year (approximately USD $25). This amount covers only the tuition, and there are additional costs, such as uniforms books and supplies in addition, which brings the total cost of a year of education to $100 or more per student. Often, when a family must make a choice, they will send only their male children to school.

Further, Haitian schools traditionally require a full payment at the start of the school year before permitting a student to begin school.

Choix does charge this standard tuition. However, tuition at Choix is on a discretionary basis so, if a family is able to pay, we expect that family to pay. If they are unable to pay or if they are not able to pay at the beginning of the year, they may pay throughout the year, as they are able.

In this way, we ensure that no child is ever denied an education on the basis of her or his economic condition. Our tuition program also allows us to ensure that we maintain a gender balance among our students, which is vital to our Mission.

Are there any colleges or universities in Haiti?

Yes. Haiti has several colleges and universities, of mixed quality and accreditation status. Some students also choose to go to other countries for their university experience.

Application, Admissions, And Rules

Will students have to pay anything to attend?

Please see answer, above, under the question “Do families have to pay for schooling?”

Under which circumstances would a student be denied admission or be asked not to return to Choix?

Choix’s Mission and Values are central to its success and to the creation of a safe and supportive environment for all of its students and community members. Choix welcomes students and prospective students who are able to and willing to contribute to the positive development of that community. These contributions include regular and consistent attendance in class, family participation in parent meetings and parent conferences, a commitment to refrain from any and all physical violence in conflict resolution, no bullying and other behaviors in support of our values.

Further, given Choix’s size and our commitment to an intimate, personal and high quality education, students with significant special needs in connection with educational challenges may not be best served by our learning environment.

How many students attend the school?

Choix serves approximately 180 students in grades 1 through 6.

How do Choix students get to school?

Choix students may walk to school, get a ride from their parents or otherwise, or can choose to ride on the Choix school bus. Choix offers bus service between the main square in Mirebalais and school, both in the morning and after school.

How did Choix determine which student could attend Choix when it first opened?

[For our current admission process, please see next question and answer.]

When Choix sought to enroll its very first group of students, the admissions process was established by a team that included the Board, its advisors and its then Principal and staff. In general, the process sought to ensure that Choix was providing access to quality education to

  • Those living in conditions of extreme poverty and
  • Those who would not otherwise have access to educational opportunities.

In order to identify appropriate students and families, Choix leadership worked with Fonkoze, Haiti’s largest alternative bank for people living in poverty. Fonkoze had personnel in the Mirebalais region that already had examined the economic strata of the local population. Fonkoze helped Choix both to communicate surrounding its objectives and the filter the applicants. Choix leadership was well aware that no process – nor information gathering strategy – is perfect. But the effort to meet the above objectives was strenuous.

Once the individuals were identified, Choix then sought to find families and students who demonstrated a commitment to the Choix mission and values, a willingness to be part of the school community, and an understanding of progressive education orientation. Though students’ aptitudes were considered, Choix was particularly sensitive to any concept of intelligence testing since students may have joined the Choix community from academic environments where – for whatever reason – they may not have performed at their personal best and did not ‘learn how to learn.’ Choix leadership sought to ensure that these students were not penalized for this prior experience.

Finally, it was Choix’s policy at its inception that, barring special circumstances, if one student in a family was admitted, all children from that family would be admitted.

Does Choix accept applications for new students?

In the spring of each year, Choix reviews the number of graduating students from its 6th grade class, as well as the number of students who will be progressing from 1st to 2nd, and determines the number of spots available in its incoming 1st grade for the following fall.

Applications are made available on a priority basis to siblings of current students, and are then distributed to members of the public who may be interested. Immediate family members of our staff (children) also receive priority.

Who will make admissions decisions and on which basis?

Admission decisions are made by the Director of Operations, in consultation with the Choix Board.

School Curriculum And Teacher Training

What curricular model does Choix follow?

L’Ecole de Choix’s academic program is based on both the French system of education as well as the Haitian educational model, since we are a Haitian school, regulated by the Haitian Ministry of Education, and our students are subject to standardized examinations offered by the Ministry.

The values that underlie Choix’s mission encourage students to make their own choices about their and their families’ futures. In order to provide them with the greatest possible diversity of choice, students are educated using a progressive curriculum grounded in both Haitian and American structures. In this manner, they are prepared sufficiently for their Haitian exams at each stage, while also ready effectively for entry into academic programs throughout the world or other opportunities, if they so choose.

The theoretical basis for Choix’s academic program is the philosophy of educational theorist John Dewey. For more information on Dewey’s theories and the Principles of Progressive Education, please see these links.

Who oversees the academic program at Choix and has the responsibility for professional development of Chjoix’s faculty?

Choix is honored to partner with the highly-regarded, Pétionville-based Haitian school, Aux Alizés. Through the commitment of its Directrice Générale, its Principal and its Formatrice, along with Choix’s Director of Operations, Choix maintains an exceptional academic program grounded in leadership development, and is able to provide its faculty with significant professional development opportunities throughout the year.

What are some of the quality elements of the academic program at Choix?

  • Leadership and Language Development:
    • Choix’s academic program educates in both French and Kréyol and also includes English- as-a-Second-Language. While the Haitian education system is based in French, we believe it is vital also to educate our students to read and write in their native Haitian Kréyol. Further, by educating our students in ESL, they will have access to the plum jobs through Haiti and the world.
    • Choix’s academic program teaches its students on the basis of ethical decision-making and responsibility, while modeling and teaching about leadership. Choix values are central to its culture and also its academic program. These values are reinforced in its all-school assemblies, in its peer-to-peer mentoring program (reading and math), its sports program, its focus on communications and presentations, and others.
  • Community Service: Students participate in local community service program such as local clean-up projects, helping out at the local Partners in Health Hospital, recycling projects and others.
  • Meal Program: Haitian children in poverty often eat less than one meal a day, placing them at some of the highest rates in the world for malnutrition, threatening fatality. Choix offers both a morning snack and a warm lunch, which encourages families to send their children to Choix every day, and improves these children’s ability to learn and grow.
  • Gender Balance: Because tuition is discretionary, and can be paid over the course of the year (unlike other rural schools), parents can send both their sons and daughters to Choix. Choix therefore is able to maintain an equal mix of boys and girls. When paying for school is difficult, parents often choose to educate only their sons.
  • Extra-Curriculars: Choix offers not only an education option to students but an extremely high- caliber one. Classroom learning is enriched with extra-curricular activities such as lessons on equality and inclusion, health, anti-bullying and non-violence, and sexual orientation (practically unheard of in Haiti).
  • Skilled Teaching Staff: Choix’s teachers have university degrees and teaching certifications with an average staff to student ratio of 15:1, which is an exception in Haiti, literally – normal Haitian rural schools usually have classrooms of 50 students, often outdoors, with teachers who often have barely a 6th grade education themselves.
  • Additionally: Choix also has a technology lab, an on-site nurse, a world-class curriculum, clean water, athletics (the highest ranked track team in its region), arts, parent education, and more.

What happens when a Choix student graduates from Choix’s 6th grade?

The Haitian educational system requires that middle schools offer different teachers and distinct classrooms for the various subjects throughout a middle school. As a result, and for financial reasons, Choix is unable to offer a middle school at this time.

Once Choix students graduate from l’Ecole de Choix, they are able to continue to the middle schools throughout Mirebalais, of which there are several. While these school programs might not offer the quality progressive education curriculum, nor the English language instruction or other valuable resources that our students find at Choix, continuing their education is an exceptionally valuable endeavor and we encourage it with all of our might.

From well before our students’ graduation, Choix works with our graduating students and their families to meet with and enroll the student in the potential target academic program. We work with the student over the summer to ensure they are prepared. We pay for their students’ tuition, uniforms, supplies and textbooks for their 7th grade enrollment. In the fall, our Director of Operations accompanies each student to their new academic home.

Does Choix plan to expand beyond grade 6?

Choix would love to expand, all the way through high school! It is an issue of financial capacity. We need to ensure sustainability of the program for which we are responsible currently prior to a consideration of expansion.

If Choix students have the opportunity to attend college outside of Haiti, whether in the U.S. or elsewhere, why is Choix hopeful that they will want to return to Haiti?

Choix’s Mission is to develop Haitian leaders to lead Haiti. Toward that objective, Choix educates its students with a strong sense of Haitian identity, pride, self-respect and dignity. When Choix discusses leadership, it strives to use examples of Haitian leaders. Faculty instill in their students a sense that these students have the opportunity not only to impact their own lives and those of their families, but the lives of their communities and the future of their country.

It is Choix’s hope that, by building the capacity of these students and their community, and by demonstrating the impact that they can have through education, they will gain a sense not only of responsibility but of fulfillment and joy at the possibilities that await them in Ayiti Cherie.

Our Stakeholders: Local, National, and International Stakeholders

The school is a Haitian foundation supported by a non-profit (501c3) based in the United States. However, it is a Haitian school and also a community partner model. What do these different roles and relationships mean in terms of stakeholder involvement and responsibilities?

The school’s Board of Directors has sought stakeholder input at every stage through village / community meetings, feedback from community members, and community involvement in decision-making regarding issues surrounding its physical plant, location and impact on the community. We continue this process on a regular basis and also bring information and resources to the community as much as possible through our non-profit and other partners.

Who makes decisions surrounding the school’s operations and academics?

Choix is subject to oversight by its Board of Directors. Curricular decisions are informed by our academic leadership from Aux Alizés.

How was Zynga involved with the school?

L’Ecole de Choix is deeply grateful to the players of Zynga and Zynga.org for its original contributions to Choix. Zynga.org began as the charitable arm of Zynga and eventually became an independent nonprofit organization in early 2012. Through campaigns in Zynga’s online games, such as Farmville and Zynga Poker, Zynga players contributed funds that helped to construct Choix’s campus and contribute to its early development.

Choix is now entirely independent of Zynga.

What is the Bureau de Nutrition et Développement (BND) and what is its relationship to Choix?

BND provides school meals to Choix through a large-scale grant from the World Bank. BND receives approval for these grants on a year-to-year basis and prior year’s approval does not guarantee the inclusion of Choix in the following year’s grant.

BND was established in 1986 at the behest of Caritas Nederland and COHAN (Comité de Coopération Haitiano-Néerlandaise). BND is a Haitian, non-profit, apolitical, non-confessional, non-governmental organization and operates under the laws of the Republic of Haïti.

BND focuses its activities in rural rather than urban areas and partners with the Haitian government, other NGO’s, partner organizations, and its beneficiaries. Since the early 1970’s, the schools in the various programs served receive a hot lunch and approximately 26,000 children, in the most impoverished sections of Port-au-Prince, receive a morning snack.

Who prepares the school meals?

L’Ecole de Choix maintains its own cafeteria, school kitchen and kitchen staff, who prepares the meals with food delivered by BND. These meals are subject to significant oversight and regular inspection under health and safety standards maintained by BND (see above).