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Haitian students find a home away from home at MSJ

(From Left to Right) Claude Michel Anthony Thebaud, Mahalia Bijou, Ben Shemeya Geneus and Antoine Harold Edouard Saint Surin.

For Mount St. Joseph Academy's Haitian students, there are many common threads - attending school far from home, experiencing a different climate and culture, and a desire to attend college in the United States after completing high school.

Families choose the MSJ International and Diversity Program to prepare their students to be independent, but with the safety net the MSJ family provides to ensure students are taken care of while away from home.

The program has flourished in recent years, particularly in attracting 10 students from Haiti.

Antoine Harold Edouard Saint Surin found few cultural surprises here, but the Vermont winter was eye opening.

“Growing up I always would rather be cold than hot. I always liked to feel cold. So I thought coming here it wouldn’t be that bad for me.” Harold said. “But then I saw what cold really is. It’s something you can’t describe. You have to feel it.”

Harold has plans to attend college in the United States and views coming to MSJ as preparation for an American college education. He is interested in mechanical engineering programs and has applied to eight colleges.

“I like how you can have some time with the teachers. In the classroom, the teachers can focus on individuals easily. It’s easy to ask questions and the teachers are helping you.”

One of the goals of the International and Diversity Program is to immerse students from outside of the area in the MSJ and Vermont experience.

“The purpose of the program is to create a sense of community and curiosity about cultures and people,” said Carrie Savage, International and Diversity Program coordinator.

Mahalia Bijou finds comfort in the small atmosphere of MSJ and the familiarity of the teachers. She is a multi-sport athlete, participating in soccer and cheerleading, as she prepares to head off to college in the fall.

“I like the teachers. I go to teachers and ask them questions because I am comfortable enough to do that,” Mahalia said. “The school has a good curriculum. I like the fact that it's a small school, so everyone knows everyone and you are more comfortable. Everyone is friends, so that’s a plus.”

Carrie says MSJ provides an education that exposes students to a real-world experience.

“Our mission is to prepare kids to go out and be leaders. And, it’s really in the best interest of our local students for us to provide a classroom that reflects the real world,” Carrie said. “You want to give them a glimpse of what they are going to find outside of Vermont.”

Claude Michel Anthony Thebaud also sees his time at MSJ as a successful path to college. He is rounding out his high school experience by playing on the MSJ basketball team and learning Spanish - he already speaks Creole, French and English.

Tony is currently exploring his college options and is applying to a number of schools. He is interested in majoring in business administration.

Carrie says the International and Diversity Program has been a tremendous asset to MSJ, both academically and culturally.

“These kids are hard working, goal-oriented. They fit the MSJ community because they are kind, they are leaders, and they give of themselves. They will help other students; they are part of this community,” Carrie said.

Ben Shemeya Geneus plays midfield on the soccer team and has enjoyed being part of this community.

“I like the ambiance and the students. They are really friendly. The teachers also take a lot of time to help me.” Ben said. “… This was my first time seeing snow. It’s cold but it’s cool.”

About the MSJ International and Diversity Program

The Mount St. Joseph Academy International and Diversity Program seeks to attract diverse students that encompass a wide range of characteristics, including geographic origins, social and economic backgrounds, races and ethnicity, viewpoints, special talents, and personal achievements. The program serves 17 students in the 2018-19 school year, including students from Spain, Haiti, Vietnam, Japan, and New York. In recent years, students from South Korea, China, Honduras, Germany, Norway and Sweden have also participated in the program.

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