INDIAN RIVER COUNTY - Deanna Slamans, an educator and author who experienced early childhood trauma when her father went to prison for murder and her mother committed suicide due to bipolar disorder, will discuss character education and how it can help children rise above dire circumstances, as the main speaker at Haiti Partners’ annual Stories of Gratitude luncheon Jan. 31 at 11:30 a.m. at Quail Valley River Club in Vero Beach.
Slamans who spent her early childhood in public housing along with her sisters and grandmother, rose above her early tragic circumstances when her aunt recognized that she was bright and enrolled her in the Milton Hershey School, a private K-12 boarding school in Hershey, Pa. for children in social and financial need. The free school teaches character development in addition to academic subjects.
Deanna Slamans, secretary of the Haiti Partners International Board of Directors, returned to the school as a houseparent, and along with her husband, helped to raise 100 boys in their student home. Slamans later wrote the school’s leadership and character education curriculum, “The Compass Project”, which gives children and teens skills to be able to overcome obstacles and become self-sufficient.
“When kids learn about the value of hard work, respect, and compassion, it goes a long way toward helping students overcome difficult childhoods. Skills like these may be taught in, say, violin lessons or sports participation,” she said.
“I think children can make up for so much with character development,” she said. “I think, in Haiti and also sometimes in the U.S., the education system has forgotten to teach the whole child, not just reading, writing and arithmetic but also respect, cooperation, collaboration, and empathy.”
Haiti Partners, a Vero Beach-based nonprofit, supports the Children’s Academy and Learning Center and six partner schools in Haiti, with more than 1,200 students. The schools all stress character development and positive learning experiences. Traditionally, Haitian child-rearing and schooling have been harsh, relying heavily on authoritarian discipline and corporal punishment. That’s due at least in part to the nation’s abject poverty and legacy of slavery and colonialism.
“The violence that happens in a home has a negative causal relationship to the amount of money the parents bring in,” she said.
Slamans and her family spent a week visiting the Children’s Academy, in a village five miles from Port-au-Prince, and saw that teachers refrained from negative feedback when they communicated with their students. Parents, who are closely involved in the school as volunteers, have learned about positive reinforcement in discipline and are taught never to strike a child.
She saw that the school day started with singing and the atmosphere was joyful, whether the students were working on a French lesson, learning math or carefully tending their individual vegetable gardens by keeping logs of weeding and feeding schedules.
Once, at playtime at the end of a school day, “The math teacher won the sack race!” she said.
John and Merline Engle, co-founders of the school, say that reshaping education will lead to a stronger, more democratic Haiti. Both will give short remarks at the luncheon and will thank donors for their continuing support.
Slamans wrote a memoir, “Faith’s Pursuit: Understanding God’s Faithfulness in Suffering,” as well as a book about houseparenting, “The House that Chocolate Built: Parenting at the Sweetest School on Earth.” She earned a master’s degree in educational psychology from Temple University. She and her husband and children, Korri and AJ, live in Hershey.
Luncheon reservations may be made by phoning 772-539-8521 or going online at https://haitipartners.org/get-involved/events/vero-beach-activities/ and are $40 per person. Haiti Partners is a 501(c)(3) certified organization. To learn more, visit www.haitipartners.org or the new work and gathering space at 1531 U.S. 1 (Kmart Plaza) next to ACT Computers in Vero Beach.