Teachers will take lessons to Haiti for spring break

courtesy Dan Wenkel Students at the Have Faith Mission in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, take part in science lessons led by visiting Twin Cities educators.

Three educators will spend their spring break teaching art and science to kids in a Haitian orphanage.

With them will be six bins, 18 gallons each, filled with science and art supplies.

“Everything that was going down with us has to be personal luggage,” said Dan Wenkel, a seventh-grade science teacher at St. Anthony Middle School.

It isn’t as safe or effective to mail the items, he said. So they’re paying for all that checked baggage.

The trip begins on March 10 and will last eight days. Joining Wenkel will be Beth Robelia, a science teacher for Minnesota Virtual Academy and Wenkel’s wife, as well as St. Anthony Middle School art teacher Chris Weihe.

This spring’s trip is a follow-up from an eight-day visit by Wenkel and Robelia in December. Wenkel said that the director of the Have Faith Mission in Port-au-Prince, who is the niece of a former colleague, reached out to see if he was interested in coming down to teach some science.

“It took us about 10 seconds to say ‘let’s go,’ and we went down for about eight days in the first week of December,” Wenkel said. “We had probably close to a year’s worth of science curriculum in eight days.”

That was accomplished because the school dropped everything for their lessons, he said. They brought glassware, microscopes and other science equipment for the roughly 40 students there.

The Have Faith Mission came under the care of an American nonprofit after the devastating 2010 earthquake, according to its website. The nonprofit, A Hole in the Roof Foundation, is run by “Tuesdays With Morrie” author Mitch Albom.

Wenkel said that the facility was relatively comfortable once inside, but the realities of an economically struggling country were there. A tall concrete wall was lined with razor wire, he said, and an armed guard stood nearby.

Wenkel and Robelia found that the kids were eager for hands-on school projects.

“We were just amazed at how thirsty the kids were for knowledge and how much they appreciated learning,” Wenkel said. “And they wanted to learn.”


Second trip

Weihe was watching from Minnesota on Facebook. When plans started for another trip, she got on board. She’ll be leading art projects that tie into the science lessons. They’ll be working with fabrics, printmaking and anything else they can get their hands on.

“I’m just looking forward to making art,” Weihe said. “It’s going to feel like a free-for-all. I’m thinking like the State Fair of artmaking with the kids. It will just be wild and never a dull moment.”

Wenkel said they’re bringing sewing machines, irons, a telescope and some engineering kits. The kids want to build things, he said, so that’s what they’re going to do. 

The lessons will center around the growth cycles of plants and how human engineering ties into that. 

“We’ve put our heads together around things that include engineering and environmental ideas and recycling and upcycling,” Weihe said.

On the first trip, there was never going to be enough time, so Wenkel said they hope to pick up where they left off in December. The trip is largely self-funded, but they’ve set up a crowdfunding site to help cover come school equipment and baggage fees.

They’re also collecting things like pharmacy items to be stocked at the Have Faith Mission.

One of the lessons Wenkel hopes stays with the kids is a central tenet of science: failure and the chance to try again. He said that many of the kids, who came to the Mission from tough circumstances, see themselves as failures. He said it resonated with the students that failure is part of the process.

“When we were talking about science, we were talking about how science is wrought with failure,” he said. “The culture of ‘its OK to fail’ was one thing that we tried to emphasize throughout the week.”

Their fundraising site can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/engineering-and-art-for-haiti-orphanage-school.

–Matt Hudson can be reached at mhudson@lillienews.com or 651-748-7825.

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