Superintendent Carol Johnson deserves credit for once again collaborating with a Haitian-American non-profit to provide innovative summer programming this summer. Boston Public Schools teamed up with Youth and Family Enrichment Services (YOFES) to run a very successful Youth Builders program this summer based at English High School. The 12 year-old program provides much-needed enrichment activities and remedial support to a predominantly Haitian and Haitian-American student population. Students receive academic remedial services, enrichment activities, and counseling for those who need it. BPS pays the teachers and provides the site for the program.
BPS teachers provide instruction in English Language Arts, math and English as a Second Language. Every day, after academic classes, the kids receive instruction in one or two enrichment activities including martial arts, sports, dance or a musical instrument of their choice. Students are fortunate to be taught by experienced and dedicated BPS educators and supported by youth leaders, college students trained to work in the summer program.
In its first few years, the program attracted roughly 40 students per summer, but that number has grown steadily as its popularity grew. This year, it’s serving 207 students in grades 1 through 12, many of whom recently arrived from Haiti and others who have been here for a while or were born here.
One of the ESL-certified teachers is Megan Olson, who considers the program unique because of the combination of remedial support and enrichment.
“With so many schools cutting their arts programs due to lack of funds, it’s great to have this summer program for these kids,” Olson said.
“This program is good for Haitian kids due to the academic support, enrichment activities and the role of the youth leaders,” added BPS teacher Pierre Toussaint.
YOFES also partners with the Haitian Mental Health Network to provide direct services to students in need of counseling and social/emotional support. Dr. Judith Alexandre, a school psychologist visits three times a week to provide one-on-one and group sessions.
Youth leaders, college students trained to work in the summer program, provide assistance to the teachers, small-group instruction and one-on-one support to students. Dania Derivois, who oversees the other youth leaders, is a psychology student at Providence College who’ll be a sophomore in September. She says that the youth leaders gain a number of skills while working with the students.
“We learn to be patient and creative when helping the students. We youth leaders also meet as a group to discuss concerns and come up with solutions to address the students’ needs.” She sees another benefit to working with these youngsters, “Kids need youth who are close to their age to talk to because they can’t always to talk to their parents or teachers about problems. We serve as role models for them and lead by example.”
Valdo Jean-Francois, an 18-year-old student, needed a lot of support when he arrived here in Nov. 2011. He says that the program is fun and has helped him with his math skills. He also loves the music classes that he receives after academics are taught every day. He’ll be a junior at Tech Boston Academy in September and agrees that the youth leaders help a great deal.
“When we have trouble understanding something the teacher teaches, the youth leaders are patient and take time to explain things to us. Although they’re not that much older from me, I respect them for their knowledge and abilities,” he says.
Mona Pompilus, the mother of a student who’s been attending the summer program for the last two years, sees the program as a God-send.
“Sometimes when a child comes to the U.S., it’s almost like they’re starting over. My son finds other kids who speak Creole and English, kids from his school and music classes. The teachers, Dr. Nicole Prudent (Director of YOFES), Geralde Gabeau, the summer program director, are doing a great job for our community.”
“My only regret is that the program ends at 3 p.m.,” she added. “I work and wish that it could end at 4 p.m. Other than that, I love the program.”
Non-Boston Public Schools students and non-ESL students pay $250 for the six weeks of the program, which is free for most of the 80-90 percent of Boston Public Schools students who attend and for all English Language Learners. Ninety percent of these kids are Haitian or Haitian-American, and 70 percent recently arrived from the island nation. The rest are African-American.
It’s not easy to run this program every year, though. Thanks to donations and support from local organizations and individuals, YOFES pays the music, dance, martial arts and sports instructors as well as some of the youth leaders. The non-profit organization also provides the musical instruments to students. If you’d like to find out more or donate to YOFES, go to:yofes.org.
Yolette Ibokette is a contributing editor for the Boston Haitian Reporter.