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Seed, soil and soul: Education major discovers the power of potential in Haiti

05/17/2018

Potential.

That was perhaps the first thing that Joe Paolucci, stepping off the plane, saw in Haiti. While natural and political calamities had all but made shipwreck of the country, there lay, amid the heaps of trash and rubble, the full treasury of nature’s riches, spilled far and wide.

“Haiti has the potential to be this amazing natural gem,” says Paolucci, recalling the “amazing mountain-scape” and “rolling hills,” gilded with sunlight, that lay beyond the smog and smoke of motorbikes and burning garbage lining the streets.

Joe Paolucci with students

Joe Paolucci with students at Institution Univers in Haiti.

 

Paolucci, an Akron native, spent a week last December in Ouanaminthe, where he and eight other students from The University of Akron (UA), through the College of Business Administration’s Institute for Leadership Advancement, taught English at Institution Univers, a nonprofit-supported school for students from pre-K through grade 13.

Although the school is one of the best in the country, Paolucci, a junior majoring in education, says its classrooms were, “by American standards, condemnable and run-down,” the students sitting in “breaking desk chairs.”

Joe-Paolucci-with-flag

Joe-Paolucci with flag on a beach in Haiti.

Yet, like the tender plants that sprung up amid the ruins – there were the students, eager and bright, filled with the sap of potential.

“Nothing could take away from the attitude that some of these students had to want to learn,” Paolucci says. “These kids walked a few miles to get to school during their Christmas break so they could learn a little bit of English.” 

When a 15-year-old Haitian student struggled to find an English term to describe his beloved homeland, which he knew had the capacity to be great, Paolucci supplied the needed word.

“Potential.”

After the meaning of the word was explained to him, the student’s face lit up.

“Yes! Haiti has potential!” he said. He looked at Paolucci, smiling. “You have potential!”

Now it was Paolucci, the teacher, who had learned a lesson. He reflected, with shame, on the fact that he and his peers in the U.S. so often neglect and take for granted a principal means of realizing that potential — education. 

“We’re so numb to everything that we have, and all the amazing resources that we have here, while these students in Haiti are twice as ready to learn, twice as passionate about it, and they don’t have a quarter of the technology that we have in the classroom,” he says. “If we start equipping these students, if they had the classrooms that we have, they would be able to do so many amazing things. Seeing how passionate that 15-year-old was, and how eager he was to learn, really made me notice that this young man could do amazing things. All he really needs is the opportunity.”

Joe-Paolucci-playing-instrument

Joe Paolucci playing the ukulele during some downtime in Haiti.

The seed of potential was there, in that 15-year-old and his peers – and in some it had come to full fruition — school teachers and administrators, doctors at the local clinic, and others who, making the best of their limited opportunities, stood in their communities like august and gigantic trees, casting their balmy shade on a parched land.

Paoulcci realized that if these men and women – nourished with so little, mere specks of sun and droplets of rain – could attain so much, so could his American students, planted in more hospitable soil.

“As a future educator, it will be my duty to identify the seed of potential in each one of my future students,” says Paolucci, who will begin his student teaching in the spring next year. “It is so important to be able to nurture that seed in adolescence, because motivation during such influential and formative years of a person’s life can give them the trajectory that will lead them down a path of success.”

For Paolucci knows that, no matter the wreckage that lies without, there resides within the soil of each student that striving, sapling spirit – that potential, that “natural gem,” gleaming like the golden hills of Haiti.