Updated: Jun 14, 2022
Sarah, Cami, David, and Marlene graduated from LIFE Academy on Friday, June 10th surrounded and celebrated by their peers, classmates, teachers, parents, and the entire village community. The myLIFEspeaks community center was packed wall-to-wall with people honoring the graduates. Some even watched through the windows outside in order to be part of the community-wide celebration.
Eight years ago, we began special education at myLIFEspeaks with one classroom and four special needs students. Our goal was to provide an opportunity for Gospel-centric education, empowerment, and dignity for children who otherwise weren’t allowed or afforded the opportunity for quality education, because of their physical or intellectual differences.
What initially began as a young intern, Izzy's, passion project, today is a full-blown integrated Pre-K through 5th-grade school serving and teaching children, both typically developing and special needs all under the same roof. To our knowledge, we are one of few, if not the only school in our region of Haiti to do so.
Our vision for an inclusive education model, where children of all ability levels are honored and treated with dignity as beloved children of God and educated in both mind and heart, is a reality at LIFE Academy.
LIFE Academy equips students with critical thinking, virtues, and empowerment in Christ that extends far beyond the classroom. Children understand from a young age that we are all created in God’s Image and all are His Beloved Children regardless of ability or disability.
This past 2021-2022 school year we had 135 students, 39 teachers and assistants, and 11 total classes including 4 special education classes.
This end of the school year was extra special because our LIFE Academy Haitian leadership deemed four of our special education students, Sara, Cami, David, and Marlene; ready to graduate from LIFE Academy, equipped with the LIFE skills, knowledge, and understanding needed for adulthood.
How / why were these students deemed ready for graduation?
Every student has what we call a “LIFE Plan” which is almost equivalent to what American schools call an IEP (Individualized Education Plan). We feel that all of our graduates met every single goal - academically, socially, and emotionally - and that it was time for them to spread their wings and fly.
What was the Special Education graduation ceremony like?
Graduation ceremonies in Haiti are a big to-do. Everyone in attendance, including the graduates - dress to the nines and come in their Sunday best attire. The decorations are immaculate and elegant and usually color schemed (i.e. red and black or pink and white, etc). Our Sped graduation was just that and in front of our entire community!
Our community center was packed wall to wall for the ceremony. Some people even had to watch from outside the windows. There was dancing and theatrical pieces but more importantly, there was the honoring of students who have been told by society they are unintelligent and have nothing to offer society. It was an opportunity for these students to put an end to a harmful cultural mindset and begin a new standard for society.
What will these students be doing after graduation?
With this being our first graduating class, we are working on providing different opportunities for our students to continue their education with the skills they learned at LIFE Academy. We are working on purchasing a few lower-maintenance farm animals for them such as pigs and goats that they can take care of on their own but also be able to contribute to their families. These animals will provide a range of opportunities including being able to sell and trade animals to help provide financially for their lives/families. We have also started a pilot program with our kitchen staff and we have a vision that some of our graduates will be able to transition into helping out with our kitchen staff as they prepare and serve meals to our ministries/community each week.
Why is this special education graduation a big deal?
We could go on and on about why this celebration is a HUGE deal and how it is not only a huge accomplishment for the students but also counteracts and proves false the widely-held cultural belief that people with disabilities can't contribute to society, achieve things, or do the things their typically-developing peers can.
This celebration and graduation ceremony is a physical sign of breaking glass ceilings. Haitian society says that anyone with a disability is worthless and immediately discounts them as "lesser than". Individuals with special needs or any kind of physical or mental difference in Haiti must face deep-seated cultural and mental stumbling blocks that others have placed before them.
But LIFE Academy lifts our students up so high by taking these stumbling blocks and using them as a foundation to build our students up to their highest potential, BREAKING THROUGH the limitations society has placed on them.
Not only is LIFE Academy breaking cultural barriers but we are breaking through spiritual barriers as well. The enemy does not want us to know that we are valuable to God. The enemy does not want us to know that we have a Father that says we are wonderfully made and made with a purpose.
Our graduates have had teachers pouring into them since the day they arrived and are leaving so full of the TRUTH of who God says they are and are able to confidently transition from school to society with badges of honor and worth crowned on their heads.