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For Haiti: Daniel Laurent, Ed.M.'96

The key to long-term recovery in Haiti, says one alum, is strengthening education.

For Haiti: Daniel Laurent, Ed.M.'96
When Daniel Laurent, Ed.M.’96, visited Haiti following the 2010 earthquake, he witnessed mass devastation firsthand. But instead of only seeing destruction, Laurent also saw opportunity.

“Haiti was at a point where you have to give back what you know,” says Laurent, himself a Haitian American. “There was room for it.” So, Laurent asked himself: What can I contribute that is sustainable and helpful to long-term relief?

“The only thing I do is education, it’s all I’ve been doing, and it’s all I can do,” he says. “Education is a privilege…. It’s a key to developing, but if it’s only given to a few, then it’s a recipe to remain underdeveloped.”

Though he initially returned to Haiti to do earthquake relief work, Laurent felt that much of that work seemed to be a “band-aid” and wouldn’t make an enduring impact. Even before the earthquake Haiti’s education system was struggling; the literacy rate hovers around 61 percent and there are shortages in both teachers and supplies. So, Laurent — an experienced teacher — decided to concentrate his efforts on building a solid teacher-training program focused on teaching in Haitian Creole, a departure from the traditional French-language schooling in Haiti. He was well into the recruiting process, when he decided to go one step further and create a new school.

The school, Lekol Antoine Thurel, focuses on providing a 21st-century quality education to stimulate social economic change for the underserved Haitian students. Opened in 2010 as a pilot program with 59 students, it grew in five years to 125 students, 7 to 19 years old. The tuition-free school has 13 teachers who collaborate in teams, develop their own curriculum, and co-teach science, mathematics, social studies, Haitian Creole, and art. By the second year, all but two students passed the national exams. By year three, all students who took the national exams passed.

“The passing rate of our school was on par with elite private schools, and very rare in community schools,” Laurent says.

The school’s model is a reflection of Laurent’s own education and teaching experience. Laurent, who immigrated to the Boston area from Haiti at age 12, was fortunate to have a solid education where he first learned English before enrolling in a more traditional K–12 curriculum. By the time he graduated from Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School, he was fascinated by the politics of education. In particular, Laurent became engrossed with the role of education in social development. 

For Haiti: Daniel Laurent, Ed.M.'96
Soon after, he was tapped by the League of Haitian Families in Boston to help Haitian immigrants pass a civics exam, under the 1988 amnesty law which required undocumented beneficiaries to pass a civics course on American history to receive permanent residency —  a role that sparked his career as a teacher. He found the job challenging and perplexing, especially when he discovered the younger students often passed the exam while his older students often failed. The latter issue kept him up at night because it should not have been; they all knew the history. He sought help from a linguist friend, who confirmed for Laurent that the language barrier was keeping students from passing the exam. When he altered his teaching to the students’ native language of Haitian Creole, all his students began to pass.

“I loved the power a teacher had to make change,” he says.

Laurent credits the Teacher Education Program and the late Professor Vito Perrone for the dynamic education philosophies he developed and took back to Haiti. “He had the greatest philosophical impact on me during my stay at HGSE. His ideas and approach to teaching and learning, especially his emphasis on teaching for understanding, played a key role in the teacher training program that we created in Haiti,” Laurent says. He adds that colleague Benjamin Griesinger, Ed.M.'11, and former MIT Professor Mel King have also been instrumental in helping serve the school community.

At the Lekol Antoine Thurel, students are taught in their native language of Haitian Creole, which aids in critical thinking and acquiring literacy skills. Additionally, the school emphasizes students being active, discussing lessons with teachers and peers, as well as project-based learning and interdisciplinary lessons.

While the school continues to make gains, Laurent admits shifting from a teacher to the head of a school is a drastic change. Currently, he is working on raising funds to keep the school open. The latter, he says, is perhaps one of the hardest parts of the work, but also the most rewarding. 

“It’s the worst job you’ll ever love,” he says. “The recipe to be happy is to follow your passion and I’m definitely following my passion.”


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