Curci Brings Haitian Connections, Experiences to Andover

First traveling as a toddler to Haiti for her father’s medical residency, Stephanie Curci gradually learned to speak Haitian Creole after returning to the country multiple times throughout her childhood.

Drawing from her experiences in Haiti, Curci, Instructor in English, brought her interest in the island culture to various programs at Andover as well as to her classrooms.

“I [spent] a few weeks every fall on a hospital campus [during my father’s residency], getting to explore on my own. Because my dad raised my sister and me by himself, we were often left to our own devices during the day while he was operating and teaching, so I got to go on a lot of interesting walks. On the weekends, [my family] would explore other parts of the country. [Haiti is] small but has a varied topography, and part of that early exploration helped get me excited about seeing more of [the island],” wrote Curci in an e-mail to The Phillipian.

While in college, Curci worked in Haiti during her summers. In recent years, Curci has returned to Haiti once or twice each year and will travel there in November.

“My experiences [in Haiti] affected how I see the world… I like the idea of going back to one place and getting to know it more deeply each time,” Curci said.

When Curci decided to pursue a career in teaching, she first wanted to work in public schools. However, she ultimately could not find a position at these schools.

“I was looking at schools in the Boston area, looking at schools where [students] were primarily Haitian, because I speak Haitian Creole, and I spent a lot of my growing up in and out of Haiti,” she said.

Curci’s early experiences in Haiti also fostered her interest in the country’s rich history. She wrote her Master’s thesis at Brown University about the Haitian Revolution and its effect on pre-Civil War American writing.

Since coming to Andover, Curci has initiated two programs inspired by her experiences in Haiti.

The first, started in 2007, is a website called “Mapping Haitian History.” The website catalogs historical landmarks in Haiti based on their location.

“I’ve been traveling to Haiti since 1978 in a variety of capacities, and I’ve seen the same sites slowly disappear,” writes Curci on the website.

“Mapping Haitian History” accepts submissions from readers for new historical sites in Haiti because there are many that go unnoticed, according to Curci. She also records historical sites that are deteriorating or that were destroyed by the January 2012 earthquake.

“I was motivated to start the site for a host of reasons, including giving myself an excuse to travel to remote parts of Haiti. Unfortunately, a lot of old Haitian forts are in the mountains as that’s most effective in guerrilla warfare,” wrote Curci in an e-mail to The Phillipian.

“I wanted to offer resources for people doing research both in and out of the country, and I’d seen sites disappear even just since I started going to Haiti in the late 1970s. I wanted to keep a digital archive for future generations. Of course, post-earthquake, that importance has definitely heightened for me,” she continued.

In addition, Curci directs the Haitian division of Andover Bread Loaf, a community service program on campus that promotes literacy and education in underprivileged school systems worldwide, according to the Andover website. The program often hosts poetry and creative writing camps for students and workshops for teachers.

Since 2011, the Haitian division of Andover Bread Loaf, with the support of an Abbot Academy Association grant, has brought nine teachers from Haiti to Andover to participate in a two-week intensive course on writing and pedagogy in the summer.

Curci recruits and supports teachers, visits schools, coordinates travel and writes reports for the project, according to Louis Bernieri, Director of Andover Bread Loaf and Instructor in English.

Curci and other Andover Bread Loaf staff members visit Port-au-Prince, Haiti, throughout the year to support the teachers in the program, according to the program’s website. In the summer of 2014, Andover Bread Loaf will host a conference in Port-au-Prince–it’s first in Haiti–which Curci and her fellow staff members plan to attend.

“[The conference] will be Haitian teachers and other teachers from the Andover Bread Loaf network across the U.S. and world… talking about teaching, sharing best practices,” wrote Curci in an e-mail to The Phillipian.

Before coming to Andover, Curci taught English for three years at St. Croix Country Day School in the United States Virgin Islands, which helped her “start to figure out how to teach.”

After her time at St. Croix, Curci moved back to New England in 2004 to be closer to her family, and she began teaching at Andover. “[Before coming to Andover], I was kind of weirded out by boarding schools. I think I thought that they didn’t really exist–that they existed only in fiction,” said Curci.

Growing up, however, Curci actually dreamed of attending boarding school. “I loved to write, and I was a ridiculous reader… I wanted to leave my public high school and go to boarding school… I wanted to be around people who were interested in ideas,” Curci said.

In her classes today, Curci encourages the discussion and analysis of literature. “I love discussions. I love what the students teach me about a text and about their lives, and getting students to question their immediate assumptions is exciting to me.”

She added, however, “Sometimes I need to remind myself–and I think we all do–how [most people] can’t afford this experience and how different it is from the rest of America’s education.”