Teacher comes out of retirement to teach poor Haitian students

After retiring in June from a nearly four-decade teaching career at Riley Avenue Elementary School in Calverton, Catherine Kent decided to go back into the classroom last month.

This time it was to teach in Haiti.

Ms. Kent spent 10 days teaching math and English to students in pre-K through grade 10 at Kindest Hearts Academie, a nonprofit school in O’Rouck, located over 60 miles from Port-au-Prince, the country’s capital.

“On my last day there, I pulled kids into the cafeteria and worked on math games I had done in the classroom my last year at Riley Avenue,” she said in an interview last week. “It was an amazing experience.”

In addition to monetary donations, the school also receives supplies from the Riverhead school district, Ms. Kent said.

“One barrel was stuff collected from the Riley Avenue student government run by Melissa Haupt,” she said. “Another barrel was a lot of teacher books and the names inside were of friends from Riverhead. It was a nice surprise.”

Kindest Hearts Academie was founded in 2011 by Wading River podiatrist Dr. Patricia Nicholas. She said it was created to offer an opportunity for students whose parents might not be able to afford to educate them at Haitian schools.

Dr. Nicholas, who was born in Haiti and moved to the United States at age 14, said she didn’t return to her home country until after it was hit by a devastating earthquake in 2010. While on a medical mission there, she realized many people needed more than just medical help. After about a year of helping numerous families pay to send their children to school, Dr. Nicholas said she decided to open one of her own.

“Before the school was built, we used a local church,” Dr. Nicholas said. “It was a one-room school for grades K-6. Kindergarten was in the back and sixth grade was outside. It was like ‘Little House on the Prairie.’ ”

The school started with 60 students and now has more than 200, as well as 40 employees. Dr. Nicholas said a second story and an 11th-grade class will hopefully be added next year.

Ms. Kent said she plans to return to the school — which is located in an area without running water or electricity — in November with Dr. Nicholas. The duo hopes to visit O’Rouck four times a year.

Until then, Ms. Kent said she’ll continue reaching out to the community in an effort to gather more supplies for the students there. She is particularly interested in collecting books in French, since the students at the school speak Creole.

Ms. Kent and Dr. Nicholas are also working on new ways to help empower Haitian girls and women.

“I wanted to make sure the impact was long-lasting,” Ms. Kent said of her lessons. “I did see a direct response from the students like I’ve seen here. It was a pretty incredible experience for me.”

Photo caption: Retired Riley Avenue Elementary School teacher Catherine Kent takes a selfie during a recent trip to Haiti, where she taught math and English to underprivileged children at the Kindest Hearts Academie. (Courtesy photo)

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