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Greensburg Salem teacher brings tablets to Haitian students

| Thursday, April 10, 2014, 8:55 p.m.
Evan Sanders | Tribune-Review
Stephen Edwards, a fifth-grade teacher at Hutchinson Elementary School in Southwest Greensburg, traveled to Haiti to help incorporate tablets into the classroom. He embarked on the mission through A Connected Planet, a nonprofit focused on improving education and health care services to children in the developing world.
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Greensburg Salem teacher Stephen Edwards introduces Haitian children to a computer tablet.

Stephen Edwards removed a computer tablet from his backpack during a break along a street in the city of Pignon in Haiti.

Children, who moments before stood away and stared at the Greensburg Salem teacher, slowly drew near.

“I showed it to them and started to tap on it,” Edwards recalled. “In a couple minutes, they took over the tablets, used the apps and played games.

“As I was leaving, they gave me a thumbs-up,” added Edwards, a fifth-grade teacher at Amos K. Hutchinson Elementary School in Southwest Greensburg. “It was almost how we broke ground.”

Edwards, 29, went to Haiti last month to show educators at two schools — SOLT Kobonal Mission, outside the city of Hinche, and Haiti Community St. Rose in Jacsonville — how to incorporate the tablets into classroom learning.

A Connected Planet, a nonprofit group operated by Edwards' in-laws, Greg and Sheila Hearne, paid for Edwards' trip and donated more than 100 tablets to the two schools, which are both north of the capital city of Port-au-Prince.

“I think it's so important to incorporate technology into our classrooms,” Edwards said. “There I was, just thinking these people have very little, and they were impacted so much by receiving these tablets. What they could do with these tablets — the sky's the limit.”

Edwards' plane landed in Port-au-Prince on March 11. He brought along an extra suitcase crammed with 50 pounds of books, pens, pencils and other supplies that were donated by the Greensburg Salem Education Association.

In Port-au-Prince, Edwards quickly noticed crowded conditions and unrelenting poverty. Often, residents hustled up to vehicles to sell knickknacks or swipe at windshields with cloths, all in hopes of getting a few coins to sustain them for a while, Edwards said.

“I didn't know what to expect,” he said, recalling the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that devastated the country in 2010.

“There are no tent cities any more. People are in houses. But what we view as poverty is different there,” Edwards said.

Edwards then headed north, toward the two schools, accompanied by information technology specialists and other experts associated with A Connected Planet.

The teachers were initially hesitant to embrace the new technology.

“At first, some of them were scared and apprehensive ... but when we met with them, they could see how this could be a great tool for them,” Edwards said.

Edwards returned to the United States on March 15.

If given the chance, he said, he would gladly return to Haiti.

“This was my first trip to Haiti, and I hope that it is not my last,” Edwards said. “My time spent in Haiti opened my eyes to a culture of people that is kind, welcoming and thankful, despite the many hardships they face each day.

“My interactions with the Haitian students and teachers is one that I will never forget,” he added.

Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or bstiles@tribweb.com.

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