West Hartford and Haitian Students Form Lasting Connections Through Art

From left: Morley fifth-grader and Student Council VP Hannah Schoen, second-grader Nybol Bona, Principal Ryan Cleary, and fifth-grader and Student Council President Jacob Boyer. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Morley Elementary School received a grant from the Foundation for West Hartford Public Schools that led to a relationship with a school in Haiti, and now another grant will allow several teachers to visit that school, forging an event stronger connection.

By Ronni Newton

Morley Principal Ryan Cleary was joined by three students at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting, proudly describing the successful results of a grant received from the Foundation for West Hartford Public Schools and how that grant led to the awarding of another grant which will allow several teachers to visit a sister school in Haiti.

Morley received a special initiatives grant from the Foundation for West Hartford Public Schools (FWHPS), and in October kicked off the “Producing 21st Century Global Citizens and Artists” initiative. Through that grant, Morley forged a relationship with a sister school in Deschapelles, Haiti, using art as a visual language of communication since the students at that school speak Creole.

“The whole idea was to provide kids with a meaningful experience to learn about different cultures,” Cleary said. A colleague had an existing relationship with the Crosby Foundation, which supports education in Haiti, and through that Morley was able to establish a relationship with the Haitian school and begin the art exchange.

Art transcends the language barrier, Cleary said, and the West Hartford students and the Haitian students have been learning and creating relationships as they transmit their creations back and forth.

“We have learned a lot about what type of art Haitians create,” Morley fifth-grader and Student Council President Jacob Boyer told the Board of Education.

Jacob also said that Morley students have learned about being global citizens, and on May 16 they will hold an art show with a portion of the proceeds going back to the school in Deschapelles.

“This year we have really enjoyed doing some special art projects,” Morley second-grader Nybol Bona, who is also a Student Council representative, told the Board. She said that they didn’t know if the Haitian students had mirrors, so rather than doing self portraits the Morley students created partner portraits and received the same creations from students at the school in Haiti.

“Just last year we sent down flowers from our Georgia O’Keefe study. We thought this would be good because students in Haiti have flowers they could draw. It has been really fun to learn about life in another part of the world,” Nybol said.

The students also sent a collage project modeled after artwork of Eric Carle. It was sent in French because that’s closer to Creole so that the Haitian students would be better able to understand the text.

Student Council Vice President Hannah Schoen, a fifth-grader, said that the Morley students learned a lot about what school is like in Haiti. “We [also] learned they don’t have as many supplies and resources as we have.”

Hannah said that Morley students have been making “houses for Haiti,” which will be sold at an art show at the school on May 16, and along with sale of art made by the Haitian students will be sent directly back to Haiti. Sale of other artwork will fund the continuation of the art exchange.

“The project was so fun – way beyond what we expected,” Hannah told the Board as she also thanked the FWHPS for awarding the grant.

The FWHPS grant allowed Morley to purchase technology and supplies to allow students to learn about a different culture in a meaningful way. It allowed the West Hartford students to interact directly with the Haitian students, and served as a starting point for something even greater.

Cleary’s big announcement to the Board of Education was that five teachers applied for and were awarded a $10,000 grant from the Fund for Teachers that will continue and strengthen the relationship with the sister school in Haiti – making the impact of the initial grant from the FWHPS even bigger and better than expected.

Two first grade teachers, a reading specialist, physical education teacher, and a music teacher, all of whom really got excited about this project, will visit the school in Deschapelles late this year, bringing their experiences to the Haitian school, learning how their disciplines are approached there and furthering the impact started by the initial grant.

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