This school year, some Palm Beach County students will be learning in English and Haitian Creole
When the new school year starts on Wednesday in Palm Beach County, students will be able to learn in Haitian Creole, thanks to the district's newest dual language program.
There’s a long history of discrimination against Haitian Creole by people who see it as a bastardization of French — instead of its own language. Haitian Creole or Kreyòl Ayisyen is the country’s mother tongue — but it’s French that’s largely taught in the country’s schools.
Nadilia Charles says when her siblings were growing up in Haiti, they were punished for speaking Creole in class.
“I didn't get to experience the educational system in Haiti. But my siblings did. And to hear them talk about how they would be scolded if they spoke Creole in school, it was not something that was acceptable,” Charles said.
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Now, Charles is helping a new generation of students learn the language — an opportunity that many of their parents and grandparents were denied back home in Haiti.
Charles works in the School District of Palm Beach County’s Department of Multicultural Education and has been instrumental in launching the district’s new Haitian Creole dual language program.
"To elevate the significance of it is to honor all of those people, all of our forefathers that came before us that fought for us to be able to stand up and say, 'I am a proud Haitian and I speak Haitian Creole.'"Nadilia Charles
Many second and third generation immigrants aren’t fluent in their heritage language because of the pressures of assimilation in the United States.
Charles hopes the program will help students reconnect with their Haitian culture.
“The thing that I treasure the most about this program is that the students will not only get to speak the language — they get to learn to read and write the language,” Charles said.
The district is launching the program at Rolling Green Elementary School in Boynton Beach, home to a large Haitian community. The students who chose to participate will learn some subjects in English and some in Creole.
“So if we're learning about plants and animals in our English language arts then we also will be learning about plants and animals in our Creole language arts,” said Jameson Stell, an SDPBC program planner for world languages and global studies.
“The other subject area that we're targeting is math. So students will be taught math exclusively in Creole,” Stell said. “Our data shows as a district that the students that have the highest math scores are those who have actually learned math in their native language.”
Stell says the Haitian community has been asking for this program for years. And it’s taken a while to get it off the ground — it’s thought to be one of the only programs of its kind in the United States.
“This was really born out of the Haitian community's desire to see Haitian Creole being taught in our public schools. So they have have been very vocal in supporting that,” Stell said. “It is long overdue for them to have the opportunity to learn in their home language and really study in Creole as an academic language.”
For Nadilia Charles, there’s power in teaching and celebrating the language of the first free Black republic — a language that fueled resistance and revolution.
“Think about our students learning about the forefathers that fought to make our country the first independent country from slavery,” Charles said. “It's huge for us to be able to teach them not only the history of the country, but the language of the country also.”
Stell says SDPBC hopes to expand the dual language program over time — and he hopes other South Florida school districts will launch their own.