The first public school in the nation to offer a Haitian Creole dual language pre-K program celebrated its first year Wednesday. Students at Boston’s Mattahunt Early Elementary School will be moving on to kindergarten next year, as a new class will be coming in this fall.
Parents, students, teachers and elected officials gathered to celebrate the program’s first year, and a new name — the Toussaint L’ouverture Academy — in honor of the Haitian revolutionary and former slave who led the first slave revolt in modern history.
Boston Public Schools Superintendent Tommy Chang told WGBH News the dual language program has been in-demand. “I know that there is a waiting list for this program because both English speakers and Haitian Creole speakers want their children to be able to speak the language as they grow up," Chang said. "That’s how we affirm and sustain these very important identities, especially in a multicultural world, we want young people to be able to speak multiple languages — not just English.”
The first year saw a 16-person waiting list and accepted 25 students. Next year’s pre-K class has 35 applicants, and will accept 22. Chang says the school plans to introduce new grade levels as kids move up in the dual language program.
Priscilla Joseph, a Haitian-American and Dorchester native, taught last year's class, the first of its kind in the country. "It’s been a lot of challenges, but the kids have learned so much," Joseph said. "The kids are learning the Haitian alphabet, they’re learning Haitian folklore, they’re learning a lot of stories that relate to their home culture, so they’re making meaningful connections, and you also have students that are from Haiti that are not put a classroom where they do not understand, they are in a classroom that feels like home, so they have shown a great level of confidence.”
Joelle Gamere, the program's director and the Director of Data and School Culture for Boston Public Schools, said school officials are hoping the program will attract more interest in the coming years.
“The first year there was a lot of trepidation for the program because it was the first one, and then there was a little bit of controversy or doubt whether the program should be a French immersion program or a Haitian Creole program, so we really pushed to have a Haitian Creole program to really keep the identity of the Haitian culture," Gamere said. "We fought on and we’ve had great successes for the program and the program has brought great successes for the school as well.”
School officials say they plan to add grades to the program as long as there’s demand for the dual language curriculum.