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Students to Visit Haiti for Reforestation Design Project

Guest post by Gina Cairney

A delegation is headed to Haiti in February to help with the ongoing rebuilding effort that began after the 2010 earthquake. But it's not simply another band of adults in pressed suits on a PR junket. It's not Bono or Angelina Jolie either.

Science teacher Leah Penniman, and 11 students from her environmental science class at Tech Valley High School in Upstate New York, will be traveling to Cormier, a rural farming village of about 100 families in Léogâne, Haiti, the Times Union reports. They will work with local farmers to plant 500 fruit trees as part of a reforestation design project.

All the students in Penniman's science class—not just the 11 who will make the trip to Cormier—are involved in the project developing planting strategies and business plans, and creating forest maps to suit the needs of the residents.

The design project ensures the community has a reliable livelihood while advancing soil conservation and maintaining the ecological wellness of the land.

"This is a great chance to get students involved in something that not only makes a difference but connects directly to their studies," Penniman told the Times Union.

February's trip won't be the first time Penniman and her students visit Haiti.

Last year, she and her 9th grade environmental science class designed a compost sanitation training system, and Penniman held a two-week workshop in Cormier teaching the locals how to implement and work the sanitation system, according to the Times Union.

These projects and trips aren't your run-of-the-mill class assignments, and are fairly elaborate by high school standards. But advocates of project-based learning might point to this kind of activity as one that can help students connect with the global community and learn how to apply what they learn in the classroom to real-world situations.

And this kind of outside assistance is helping the Cormier, Léogâne community rebuild after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake in 2010 left thousands of people dead or injured, and displaced a million others.

Located 15 miles west of the capital city Port-au-Prince, Cormier-Léogâne was the epicenter of the disaster that destroyed much of the country's infrastructure, including its education system.

In January 2010, a 7.0-magnitude earthquake near Port-au-Prince destroyed much of the country's infrastructure, including its education system.

Five thousand schools were in shambles and with the collapse of the ministry of education, the country's entire education system shut down for a time after the earthquake, according to a 2011 UNICEF report.

Those schools were seen as a critical service for maintaining stability and helping the children cope with trauma, Joel Jean-Pierre, the education minister, told Reuters in 2010. He said that classes would have to resume, "perhaps in tents or the open-air. But even in wartime, schools must function."

Within a few weeks, some public schools reopened, and between October 2011 to the end of the year UNICEF helped distribute school supplies and materials to over 700,000 children and 15,000 teachers in 2,500 schools, according to organization's 2012 report.

"Education is at the core of Haiti's recovery and is the key to Haiti's development," UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova told Reuters back in 2010.

Earlier this year the World Bank and other relief organizations reported that the rebuilding effort is massive but that there have been significant strides in getting hundreds of thousands of children back to school in improved facilities.

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