Haitian girl adapting to new school

Seven-year-old Emma Charest, the newest student in Doane Stuart School, reviewed little flash cards

Seven-year-old Emma Charest, the newest student in Doane Stuart School, reviewed little flash cards containing objects with her teacher Jamie Gerighty.

“Where’s a pencil in the room? Can you point to one?” Gerighty asked.

Emma pointed behind her to a can of pencils without saying a word. She speaks very little English because she recently arrived to the United States from earthquake-ravaged Haiti.

She speaks Creole, a variant of French used by Haitians. Not only had she never been in an American school, she had never been to school. But she is slowly adjusting, according to Gerighty.

“It’s been great. The kids have been so welcoming, so sweet to her. She’s starting from square one here,” Gerighty said.

American life is somewhat of a culture shock for Emma. “She saw running water for the first time when she came here. She has a desk for the first time,” Gerighty said.

Gerighty does some one-on-one instruction with Emma during various points of the day while the class works on other lessons. In the afternoon, she does some playing. “She is making progress. We’re taking it step by step.”

Emma’s arrival was fortuitous since the students just finished a unit on immigration.

“She seems very nice and funny,” said 7-year-old Lauren Simon.

Annie Grace Cumings Ledbetter, 6, said it is a little difficult to communicate with Emma. “She knows simple words like ‘hi,’ ‘good-bye,’ ” she said.

School Headmaster Richard Enemark said Emma’s arrival continues the coeducational interfaith K-12 school’s tradition of welcoming people from different faiths and different backgrounds.

Emma’s mother, Melissa Charest, who lives in Brunswick, is actually an alumna of the school.

Charest, 56, who is a retired nurse, had adopted Emma’s 8-year-old brother, Jacob, in the summer of 2004. However, at the time she had not inquired about whether Jacob had a sibling. It wasn’t until about 2006 when she happened to get a letter from the outreach agency containing a photo of a then 3-year-old Emma that Charest made the connection.

Charest said adopting Emma was the culmination of a long process almost four years in the making — involving much red tape and paperwork. Just when she thought she had completed all the forms, a mistake in her name on the passport ground the process to a halt.

The devastating earthquake on Jan. 12 may have actually helped cut through the red tape.

Charest said her daughter was standing outside her orphanage at the time the disaster struck. Some of the children suffered minor injuries including scrapes and bruises.

The paperwork was in the archives of a building that collapsed after the earthquake but officials were able to complete Emma’s adoption. However, she was held over for a week in Miami because Border Patrol officials wanted to make sure that she was not part of an alleged ring that was trafficking in children. Charest had to return the following week in late January to finally be reunited with Emma.

Once they were together in the United States, Charest attempted to get Emma adjusted. She took her all over the farm where she lives to get used to the animals.

Charest is also doing crafts with Emma and working with her on letters.

“She can do pretty good with her alphabet, numbers not so good, printing not so. We try to work at it for a short time each day,” she said.

Emma is also trying to get used to the colder weather. “One day, she was showing me a tank top and shorts she wanted to wear,” she said.

Most importantly, Charest is grateful the adoption process has been completed and Emma is in the United States.

“I just wanted it to happen a lot sooner. I’m grateful that everything has worked out. I’m still very positive about the whole thing even though it took so long,” Charest said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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