Phillips Academy French 400 Class Teaches Haitian Immigrants English Language Skills

Utilizing their French skills in a real-world environment, students in the Phillips Academy “Francophone Presence” French 400 class are helping Haitian immigrants to improve their English speaking abilities, prepare for the driver’s license test, and study for the citizenship examination. Traveling to the First Haitian Baptist Church in Lawrence each Tuesday, these 15 students also tutor young children in academic subjects such as math and reading. Started three years ago by Chair of the French Department Henry Lynn Herbst, the project began as a way to serve the community while simultaneously letting students practice their French skills in a setting outside the classroom. Andover students tutor approximately 17 to 20 Haitian immigrants, who range in age from 10 to 65 years old. Describing the service project as “a true learning experience,” Mr. Herbst noted, “Through this project we are trying to support the church as much as we can while still easing the Haitians into American culture. For my students, it’s a real world situation. Their eyes are being opened to how people integrate into society.” French 400 students who participate in the program must keep a journal to write down their “successes, non-successes, and reactions,” in the words of Mr. Herbst. He elaborated, “[Students] record their successes, but they don’t have failures. They might not succeed the way they desired while helping a person, but it was not a failure. We all discuss what went well and what didn’t go well. We try to overcome these problems.” French 400 student Jen Graham ’04 described her experience working with Haitian immigrants as extremely positive, noting, “It is really admirable the way that [the immigrants] come to the Church and want to learn. They are all really motivated and work hard.” In addition to the French 400 class’s involvement with the First Haitian Baptist Church, the Academy has also aided the church in other ways; the proceeds from this year’s West Quad North Fashion Show were donated to the parish. The one-dollar admission charge to the Fashion Show added up to a $400 donation to the church and its congregation. Angela Monaco ’03 organized the fashion show last term and proposed the idea of donating the proceeds to the worship center. “Initially, [the Haitian immigrants] didn’t have a church,” Mr. Herbst said. “They bought one, and it need[ed] a lot of work…our donations helped the church install new flooring at the altar. The members of the church did all the construction work themselves when putting in the floors.” According to Mr. Herbst, the Haitian community bases itself on church life, a fact that makes the Academy’s donations all the more valuable. The First Haitian Baptist Church is part of the Greater Lawrence Council of Churches and is comprised mainly of Haitian immigrants who are unable to speak English fluently. The congregation consists of approximately 65 members of the 4,000 Haitian immigrants living in the Merrimack Valley area. The church, founded in 1987, recently moved back to Lawrence from Methuen. The congregation purchased a small brick building that was formerly a Lithuanian church and opened in this building during January of this year.