YORKTOWN, N.Y. - Children in an impoverished orphanage in Haiti will soon be getting some very special new books to fill their library stacks and to help them learn English. The books were created just for them by Yorktown fifth graders.

Retired Yorktown teacher Lois Burke of Peekskill initiated this project of donating books to coordinate with a summer church-mission trip she plans to the Caribbean nation of Haiti. The island nation was devastated by a major 7.3 magnitude earthquake that struck June 12, 2010, and many areas have yet to recover.

Yorktown students in three fifth-grade classes wrote and illustrated original books to share with the 30 resident children of the orphanage and the other students from neighboring communities who attend school there.

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The idea, explains Burke, was “to provide materials suitable for young children and to show the children in this Haitian orphanage that the world cares about them.” 

“What you all have done is the best. I can’t thank you enough for these wonderful books,” said Burke, collecting the stacks of unique books created by the students. She and other visitors from the United States will also offer advice and services to the Haitian-based teachers.

The project also taught students from three participating classes—taught by Betsy Flor, Jean Barber and Barbara Alessi—about the plight of families in Haiti and provided the children an opportunity to be of service.

“We are devoted to service learning,” said Crompond Principal Lori Roberts. “And here is a great example of a project that exemplifies this and also draws on many student skills.”

One class retold traditional fairy tales in a modern way. Another class wrote poems about American culture inspired by “The Important Book” by Margaret Wise Brown, who also wrote “Good Night Moon.” Another class wrote nonfiction stories about the United States in general—states and regions and presidents.

The children also had plenty of questions for Burke about Haiti and the recipients of these books from Yorktown, such as how long would she stay and would she share photos of the orphanage and the students.

But student Maddox Gambetta got right to an important point.

“Do the children speak and read English?” he asked. Actually, they speak a French and Haitian Creole, Burke answered, adding they are learning English. She said these books will inspire the Haitian children to learn about the larger world and possibly try to write their own books and stories.

She will stay in Haiti for about 10 days and promised to share photos of her mission.

Barbara Nackman is the media manager for Yorktown Central School District.