MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury Union High School may temporarily expand its district boundaries by several thousand miles to help educate as many as six Haitian students whose own schools were reduced to rubble by the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake.
The Vermont Principals Association (VPA) is currently working with U.S. State Department officials in Haiti on a program through which 30-35 Haitian students would travel to Vermont to complete their high school studies. The students would be placed with host families and be allowed to earn their high school degrees by June of 2011, according to details released Monday by VPA Executive Director Ken Page.
“They have obviously been through a terrible situation,” Page said of the Haitian students who suddenly find themselves without basic necessities, let alone an education infrastructure. “There are a lot of details to work out, but (organizers) want to get it done by March 1.”
Reports out of Haiti indicate the earthquake leveled more than 200 public high schools in the capital city of Port Au Prince. It’s a situation that has abruptly suspended the scholastic careers of thousands of children and teens. Bill Lawson, principal of MUHS, said that slightly more than 50 percent of Haiti’s population is 18 or younger. That translates into a lot of young minds that are not being nourished while Haitians take their first steps in putting their country back together.
Page recently sent Lawson and other Vermont high school principals an e-mail asking about their ability to absorb some visiting students within their existing populations.
Lawson, in consultation with other district officials, reported back that MUHS could open its doors for around a half-dozen newcomers.
“We have some capacity and we could accommodate some kids,” said Lawson, who late last week sent a letter to district families asking if they could host an incoming student from Haiti.
In just a few days, Lawson received eight responses from families indicating an interest, or a firm commitment, to host.
All of the students in question have at least a working knowledge of English. MUHS has English as a Second Language resources to help out.
The students are mostly juniors, ages 18-19.
Under terms of the program, participating districts would waive tuition and provide books and perhaps a portion of the students’ health insurance. Host families would provide food and lodging. The incoming students would be furnished with airfare, $400 to purchase warm clothing and a portion of their health insurance through a recently established “Victoria Delong Memorial Scholarship Fund.”
Organizers are hoping to welcome the new students into the Green Mountain State by March 1. Page is looking for a lead agency in Vermont that could coordinate the program.
“There are a ton of logistical things to sort out,” Page said.
Other Vermont schools that have agreed to host Haitian students, according to Page, include Thetford Academy (three students); the Rochester School (six); Champlain Valley Union High School (one); Springfield School District (three); Woodstock Union High School (two); and Williamstown High School two). Cabot, Danville, Burlington High and Mount Mansfield Union High schools were still considering the program as the Addison Independent went to press.
Lawson believes participating in the program would be a win-win for all concerned. The district would be helping students in dire need without overburdening local taxpayers with extra expenses. At the same time, local students would benefit from exposure to peers from another culture from whom they could learn first-hand about meeting and overcoming immense hardship.
MUHS students have already been pitching in on Haiti relief efforts, raising around $1,700 at their winter carnival to give to Doctors Without Borders, a group that is treating those injured in the earthquake.
“This seems like the right thing to do,” Lawson said of welcoming Haitian students. “It would also be providing our own students with another layer of understanding of the plight of folks in Haiti — a poor nation in the best of times.”
Anyone able to assist in accommodating Haitian students at MUHS should call the school at 382-1500, or contact the VPA at 229-0547.