Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Great Laundry Challenge of 2012

With a name this dramatic, what could go wrong?

Last week my Senior Transitions class studied laundry. This class is all about college preparation, and the mildew-scented, coin-operated basement laundry room can be a daunting place.

On Wednesday we had a laundry competition. Half the class worked in pairs to eliminate a stain. I stained white tshirts and let them sit for 24 hours before giving the kids 30 minutes to do their worst.
Tomato sauce
Raspberry tea

Results time. Sparkling white!
He got bonus points for removing his stain, plus the built-in pit stains of these (very) old undershirts.
The finalists
Me judging the tshirts in the light
The winners!
Soy sauce and lipstick were no match for these stain removal champions.

I absolutely LOVE teaching Senior Transitions. We're done with college applications, laundry, and sex. This week we move along to drugs, alcohol, and nutrition.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

My Classroom in Haiti

Photos taken last week, with zero staging. You are getting such delightful natural lighting because the power was out. Ha.
 Items on my desk (clockwise from top left): behavior clipboard, SAT vocabulary cartoons, projector remote, SAT and TOEFFL prep books, Marzano's academic vocabulary, an Antigone paper, my planner (complete with blue to-do list on leftover Camp Gap affirmation cards), mosquito zapping wand, hole puncher sitting on Tom Sawyer, digi cam, Ackerman family fundraising DVD, Deep Woods Off mosquito spray, yellow emergency sub folder (six weeks past due date to administration), stack of "little writes", laptop, document to help seniors sign up to absentee vote, English 10 lesson plan binder, keys.
 Secret to success: pulling Popsicle sticks with student names instead of calling on those who raise their hands. Keeps 'em on their toes. Also, that lime green cube is a staple-free stapler. Whoa.
 So what if my map lists ZAIRE (which ceased to exist in 1997) smack in the middle of it? When life gives you lemons... simply cover the mistake with a heart-shaped Post-It.

On the left is my student council calendar area. On the right is a table where I display books to choose from for the month's theme (classics, biographies, etc.). That is also where the college research books live, and the lost & found.
 Classroom library

On the left you can see my wall unit air conditioner. Sometimes I feel my entire life revolves around appeasing the AC gods. In the windows you can see our green bars. Lizards occasionally scamper about on the bars, which delights me but distracts my pupils.
 Homework on the left, SAT vocabulary on the right, and instructions for the next class smack in the middle. If you ever forget your textbook or finish early, you get to read TIME magazine.

The Great Laundry Challenge of 2012 was a competition between the Senior Transitions students to see who could best get our wrinkles and get out stains. I'll post pictures of that soon.

"LW" means "little write", or a one-page handwritten response. "SSR" means "self-selected reading"; one book is due at the end of every month.

And yes, I did add "swag" to the definition of "panache". Trying to speak the kids' language, yo.
Blue words are SAT words from the whole year so far. Lime green words are Marzano's academic vocabulary.  Purple words are.... well, my blue marker ran out. Yellow posters show the 6 + 1 Writing Traits. We're all using that writing method this year.

Can you guess the kids' favorite word so far this year?

Yep, you guessed it.


Love you guys,


Monday, September 24, 2012


Yesterday I turned 27. Hooray!

This weekend was really special, and as I left school on Friday I was kind of high on life.

Friday morning I teach Senior Transitions class, and this week we've been talking about reproduction and sexual decision making. Friday morning I had a panel of staff members come and receive questions from the 12th graders. Seven brave adults fielded extremely personal inquiries! First question: "So how many of you waited until marriage?"


I think this hour is one of the most valuable of the entire semester. There were a variety of backgrounds represented, with all sorts of choices. God is so faithful to redeem our stories- good, bad, and ugly. Personally, I am so humbled that he would allow me to share my advice and regrets in a way that can bless, warn, and instruct younger kids that I love and want to save from suffering.

We went on through the morning, and then Friday after lunch was the Quisqueya Olympics! This year I'm the student council sponsor, and this was the first student council event of the year. We set up a tournament between secondary classes, with each elementary grade matched with a secondary grade (for example, 3rd and 10th grades were matched together to make the red team).

1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades
4th grade is INTENSE about supporting the freshmen
Seniors laugh and cheer
10th grade was undefeated in volleyball

Girls from my discipleship group manning the 11th grade bake sale

DJ Maika, spin that track

For all you teachers out there:

Sometimes you just need to end your workweek with a giant schoolwide "Cupid Shuffle".

The event went swimmingly. It was a delight. I had so much fun, and, better yet, I knew I was having it while the event was still going on.

There were dodgeball, volleyball, and relay race tournaments. In between there was an all-school game of Simon Says.

Good clean fun.

So Friday I came home sweaty, hot, tired, and feeling very satisfied. A great start to a birthday weekend.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Meristel's Roof Update


Last week I told you about Madame Meristel, a lovely Haitian lady with five kids whose tarp roof was destroyed in Hurricane Isaac. I posted a photo of the proforma her husband got from a contractor that described all the needed supplies to finish the roof. I asked you guys for $1,500 to get this lady and his kids a roof.



One thousand six hundred and eighty dollars appeared in our Paypal account over the last week.

13 people gave to this cause, including one $10 gift from a five-year-old who saw Madame Meristel's photo on his grandmother's computer. He went straight for his piggy bank, according to his grandmother.

13 people gave to Meristel's roof, including 10 people who are total strangers to us. I have no idea how you wound up on this blog, but Meristel's life is about to get a whole lot better due to your money.

13 people gave, including people from Columbia (TN), Dallas, Fort Worth, Baton Rouge, Houston, Garland, Waco, Tro (MI), Cumming (GA), and Rowlett. Who are you crazy strangers giving me money?! Thank you!

Hooray!!! Praise God.
Slightly edited since I can hear my mom's voice in my head warning about identity theft
So last night I wrote a check for the total donated and will get it cashed. Miquette has volunteered her truck to help Meristel get to a construction material store (and also, if we're honest, so provide some light accountability that the money definitely goes to the roof). This is really going to happen.

I hope I'll be able to visit and take a picture when it's done.

Thank you guys so much.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Last week we had a few nights without power. Some of my friends would scoff. A few nights? Ha! Try 10 days. I would remind them that comparisons are odious. AND. My house is hotter and my street is louder so. There. Nanny nanny boo boo.

With no power we have no fans to sleep with. Fans are vital for two reasons. First, our apartment was apparently a Native American sweat lodge before the school repurposed it into a living space. The direct air from fans allows me to sleep without sweating so much I need an I.V. in the morning. Second, Delmas 75 is rowdy, loud, and proud. Outside our home there is a place to get smoothies (Hepatitis Delight, since the purity of the ice is questionable) and a place to get fritay (fried deliciousness), and a place to get grilled chicken with beans and rice. Three restaurants on one street corner, all of it 5-10 yards from where I lay my head. The second thing my fan does is drown out the noise, not just of the blenders or conversation, but also of the backfiring cars, stray whining dogs, and car radios playing the same kompa songs on repeat. Fans block this all out.

When we lost power I was not willing to sweat into my sheets all night long because I am a grown man. I shouldn't be wetting the bed in any capacity.

I moved out of my bed and into the kitchen, where I hoped it would be cooler. And it was. It also moved me towards the streets with its cacophony of urban living. I laid out on the cot, which I am too long for, and proceeded to toss and turn, a sticky sweaty mass hearing the sweet nighttime sounds of urban overcrowding. I noticed as I was trying to press myself into sleep that the motorcycles' engines raced louder, the trucks made more noise when hitting the speed bump out front, and every conversation sounded like a fight. The kompa music, which I really have a hard time listening to , was even more grating on my nerves. All of this noise pollution weighed on me for what seemed like hours, but if I am rational, something that seems totally unrealistic. In hindsight, it was probably 45 minutes. Then the real fun began. Someone, somewhere decided that now, in the middle of the night, was the time to drag metal down the street. So the oh-so-sonorous sound of metal scraping concrete- the industrial equivalent of nails on a chalkboard- became my lullaby. There is not enough time to write about the buzzing of mosquitos in my ears or the metal creaking of the cot when I shifted my weight.

But trust me, it was the loudest night ever.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Help Madame Meristel Recover from Isaac!

Hi friends! I'd like to introduce you to Madame Meristel.

In Haitian fashion, she's called by her husband's name. For example, I am called "Madame Ben".

Madame Meristel (say it MARE-ih-stell) has five children. They range in age from 18 to 5. Her husband has been a maintenance worker at Quisqueya for many years.

Madame Meristel cleans my house. She comes two days a week. She has never missed a day in two full years.

I've spent more time talking to her than any other Haitian (excluding fellow teachers). I've certainly spoken more Kreyol with her than anyone else. On Monday she brought her five-year-old daughter Kristel to work, and Ben got out our puppy. Kristel giggled when Jefe licked her.

Two weeks ago when Hurricane Isaac rolled through, I found out more about where Madame Meristel's family lives. They lost their home completely in the 2010 earthquake. Over the years since, they have been saving and rebuilding a small concrete house. They would construct the house as money allowed- buying a bag of cement here, a dozen concrete cinderblocks there. The roof is the last part to be finished. Their current roof was a blue tarp, which they call a tant (tent).

The night of the hurricane their tarp roof blew off and was destroyed.

Miquette spoke to Meristel and asked him to get a quote from the boss mason about finishing the house with a concrete, permanent roof. This is the proforma. I had my French-major pal Ruth help with translation.
40 sacks of cement ($325 US)
1 roll of wire ($90)
35 pieces of iron rebar in a certain size ($320)
15 pieces of iron rebar in a certain size ($80)
40 pieces of rebar in a certain size ($70)
5 pounds of nails ($5)
25 metal bars to support the roof weight ($50)
6 sheets of plywood ($60)
6 planks ($15)
1 truck of sand ($165)
1 truck of gravel ($65)
labor for the carpenters and the ironwork ($250)
labor for the cement guys ($125)

The total on Mr. Meristel's proforma is 11,800 Haitian dollars, which equals $1,475 US.

(If you add up the dollar amounts above, you only get $1,250 US... I lost some money somehow in my exchange rate calculations for each item and rounding.)

So I want to find $1,475 so that Meristel, his wife, and his five kids can have a roof. Not a tent, but a real concrete roof that will last. They have done the hard work of rebuilding their house, and now it's time to help them finish.

Would you like to help? Maybe your family can sponsor one or two items off the list. Or your office? Or class? Or small group?

If you'd like to help, you can give through our Paypal link on the top right corner of our blog. Make sure to put in the "notes" box that this is for Madame Meristel's home. If you want to make doubly sure, you can make the donation AND then email me at to tell me that your gift was for the roof. 

Thank you.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

I Throw My Hands Up in the Air Tonight

It's been over four weeks since I tried to chop off my finger. I realize I have a problem and am going to stop cutting. I promise.

I have never been more compliant. I have followed every order from my doctor, washed with antibacterial soap and non-cistern water, squirted with peroxide, applied Neosporin, not picked my nose. See? Totally compliant.

Now, all the stitches have fallen out. The swelling is down, but my left index finger is about as big around as a thumb. To say I don't have feeling in my finger would do a great disservice to the nerves at my knuckle that remind me when I try and bend it that it hurts.  But I don't have any feeling in the tip of my finger.

This whole ordeal has been strangely good for Katie and I. I have had to ask for a lot of help: tying shoes, buttoning shirts, opening anything. Katie always helps. Patience is not her strongest virtue, but she has done a lot in the last month to strengthen that quality. And it is humbling for me. To select my clothes and then have my wife button my pants. Now with the stitches out there should be a return to normalcy. For examples, with my stitches out I now no longer need help bathing.

Luckily there is no pity here in Haiti, or I might have felt sorry for myself. My coworkers have been quick with jokes- one even referred to it as a paper cut. My Haitian friends have been very inquisitive about my finger. Machete and machine accidents are not uncommon; from their reactions I think it is almost certain that had this accident happened here in H  I would have lost half of my finger.

With all of the stitches out my next step will be to start physical therapy exercises. I have a ball to squeeze, and I am trying to contact a physical therapist here in Haiti. More stories will come, and the moment I can make a closed fist or a flatten my hand I will post a picture here.



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