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Teachers from the two area charter schools meet with Gene Vertus, the founder of Passion Rescue Mission. (Ashley Withers / American Press)<br>

Teachers from the two area charter schools meet with Gene Vertus, the founder of Passion Rescue Mission. (Ashley Withers / American Press)

Area charter school teachers head to Haiti to help

Last Modified: Monday, October 01, 2012 7:19 PM

By Ashley Withers / American Press

Teachers from the two area charter schools will head to Haiti next week to volunteer at their “sister school,” The Genecoit School of Excellence.

Lake Charles Charter Academy and Southwest Louisiana Charter Academy are operated by Charter Schools USA, which hosts an annual mission trip to the school.

More than 40 applicants from within the Charter Schools USA System applied for the Passion Rescue Mission Trip to Haiti, and 14 teachers were selected. Six of these teachers were from the two charter schools in the Lake Area ­— three from Southwest Louisiana Charter Academy and three from Lake Charles Charter Academy.

“I’m just looking forward to helping out the kids and taking it back to our school,” said Skye Duhon, a Lake Charles Charter Academy teacher. “I want to share with my students how blessed we are to live here and to have the things that we have.”

“I think being able to experience this hands-on is what I’m most excited about. Helping the less fortunate is a blessing,” said Anita Barker, a teacher at Southwest Louisiana Charter Academy.

“Learning the Haitian culture is another thing I’m excited about. Learning the culture and being able to share it with my colleagues and my students at Southwest and my family as well.”

While preparing for the trip last week, the participating teachers were surprised with a visit by Gene Vertus, the CEO and founder of Passion Rescue Mission.

Vertus shared the story behind the school with the teachers.

“My father, before he passed away, was a missionary and a pastor and was funding a school. After he passed away, the school basically shut down because we had no one to fund it. Three years ago, I just had this burning desire to go back,” he said. “I was very fortunate to be able to come to the United States and get an education, but I thought I owed it to myself to go back and give back. The first project that came to mind was the school that my father had started.”

Vertus said education is expensive in Haiti and that most of the children cannot afford to attend school. He wanted to provide an alternative that was accessible for students in all socio-economic classes.

He thanked the teachers for volunteering for the mission trip.

“I’m overwhelmed. I thank you all very, very much for taking the time, for wanting to go to Haiti,” Vertus said.

The teachers will be giving special presentations, teaching lessons, feeding the students and bringing donated supplies.

“The students donated supplies. They wanted to make sure they brought everything they could,” Hardy said. “The community is really supporting us. I’m just so glad to be a part of this team.”

In addition to the donated items, the students at the two charter schools raised $2,000 for school uniforms for the students in Haiti.

Pam Quebodeaux, the principal of Lake Charles Charter Academy and Southwest Louisiana Charter Academy, is “extremely proud” of her teachers for volunteering and said the experience will be invaluable for the two schools.

“I am so excited for them that they get to participate in this very special project. It’s an outreach project where we give back to those that are less fortunate than us and actually get to be able to do an educational exchange,” Quebodeaux said. “The teachers will be able to teach the students in Haiti, and our own students will be able to watch some of what’s going on.”

The education exchange will be led by Karen Hardy, a technology teacher at Lake Charles Charter Academy, who will use Skype to teach both the students in Haiti and in Lake Charles at the same time.

“I will be there, and they will still be learning here,” she said.

“I hope to create an awareness of our global neighborhood and perpetuate the idea that we are part of the human family with brothers and sisters all over the world. The greatest lesson taught is the greatest lesson learned.”

Other teachers will be teaching more traditional school lessons.

“We’re going to be reading stories to the children. Most of them have never had their own storybooks, so we are going to bring these to them,” said Amanda Zachary, a Southwest Louisiana Charter Academy teacher. “One of my lessons will include a storybook that they can color and write words in. They will be able to keep and take home this little book.”

Zachary’s colleague Menka Ardoin will be teaching a math lesson on fractions to fourth- and fifth-graders.

“The kids have never had candy before from what I understand, so I’m going to be including Skittles and chocolate into my lesson,” Ardoin said.

Duhon will be teaching a world geography lesson. “I want to show them where Haiti is in relation to where we live,” she said.

Barker will giving a seminar on dental hygiene. “I collected hygiene items — toothbrushes, dental floss, toothpaste. I will be teaching a lesson on healthy teeth,” she said.

Lake Charles Charter Academy teacher Summer Odom will be sharing the Mardi Gras tradition with the students in Haiti.

“Their language is French, so I thought it kind of went together. Hopefully on their field day we can start it off with a little Mardi Gras parade,” Odom said. “I’m excited to go. I’m nervous, but I can’t wait.”

The teachers leave for Haiti on Oct. 8 and will stay until Oct. 14.

Online: www.passionrescuemission.org.

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