By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published August 18, 2016
DULUTH—As Meagan Bradford’s two months of work as a missionary in Haiti ended, she thought about her waiting dream job, a classroom teacher at Duluth’s Notre Dame Academy. However, a chance encounter with a youngster on a visit to the island months later made her rethink where she should teach.
“It was the smallest encounter ever. She probably doesn’t remember me. But I couldn’t get her out of my mind,” said Bradford about a little young girl fascinated by a pen and paper and writing letters. About 16 months after sitting down with the girl, she is starting a school in Haiti.
Soon her first students will meet in former storage rooms but now with fresh, bright paint on the walls. Said the 24-year-old teacher, “I’m dreaming big, but we are starting small.”
New teaching methods for Haiti
This school, which has been welcomed by the bishop of the Diocese of Anse-à-Veau and Miragoâne, will include students of mixed ages and will serve children of missionaries serving there and local students. The small school will be located at the John Paul II Center for New Evangelization, a hub for the Life Teen mission, where Bradford served in the summer of 2014. The school Bradford envisions will overturn how teaching is done in the typical Haitian classroom. Most students are taught in a rigid system where they learn by memorization only. Instead, she wants students to be creators, following their curiosity and passions.
Volunteering an important part of her family
The middle daughter of an engineer, Bradford grew up in a house where serving others was linked to faith. When the family lived in Arizona, they got involved with the nonprofit Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (Our Little Brothers and Sisters) that sponsors schools and orphanages in Central and South America. They made trips to Mexico, Guatemala and Nicaragua to be with young people and to work. Bradford later studied education at the University of San Diego.
Bill Bradford said his three kids, along with he and his wife, Kathy, live out their faith by working with those less fortunate.
“Every experience has been a powerful way to pull our family to God,” he said.
Meagan has been a leader with Life Teen, serving at summer camps and in Haiti for the summer before starting at Notre Dame Academy as a fifth-grade teacher. She considers women of faith to be her role models, finding inspiration from the Virgin Mary, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Blessed Mother Teresa, and St. Bernadette, who was her confirmation patron saint. “Women with bold faith!” she said.
When she first told the family about her plans, her father said, “It was primarily a mix of pride and fear. It’s a very noble thing you are doing, but you have to think these things through.” He thought she was putting a lot on the line, especially her first paying job after college at a great school, he said.
Since last fall, the Bradfords have shouldered this effort in Haiti, too. The family started a holy hour of prayer to help them understand together.
Bill said, “It was clearly Spirit-led, which is so wonderful to see in our daughter. She is an example to all of us to say yes to God.”
The family traveled in Haiti in the past. In September, they’ll travel there to spend days to prepare for school.
New school named after her school in Duluth
Students in Haiti attend schools run by nonprofits, religious organizations and for-profit schools. An estimated 200,000 school-age children do not get an education, but enrollment rates are rising, according to the World Bank. Barriers to education are the tuition and school fees faced by parents. Some students attend school only when their families can afford it, so there can be 16-year-olds attending sixth grade, well above the grade age, reported the World Bank. Nearly half of the adult population is illiterate.
The bishop of the diocese, Bishop Pierre-Andre Dumas, welcomed the young teacher and her new school.
“It is with great pleasure I welcome you into my diocese as a missionary and a teacher faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ and his Catholic Church. As a missionary, you will be participating in my own ministry of teaching as you awaken a love of the logos in the minds of the young children so that they may grow in the awe of the living God,” said Bishop Dumas.
Bradford is calling the school “Académie Notre Dame a Madian” in honor of the school that hired her as a first-time teacher.
“It is wonderful to be able to have a real life example of unselfish love and service in our school,” said Debra Orr, the founder of Notre Dame Academy, an independent Catholic school in Duluth. Orr said the school community has talked with Bradford about supporting the project. She added, “Meagan is one of those educators who has been blessed with an amazing gift. She was born to do this.”
One of the hurdles faced by working people in Haiti is the cost for education. So Bradford began the Reveye (Rev-ee-ay) Foundation, a nonprofit, from the Haitian Creole word for awaken. Fundraising is about halfway to its $40,000 goal, Bradford said. The funds will be used to pay for large expenses, such as hiring a local carpenter to build tables and chairs and a restroom for students. And although it was in doubt, a donated generator will supply electricity.
Students will be taught using the Montessori approach to education, where students are encouraged to follow their curiosity and passion. And faith education will continue the hands-on approach, through the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.
Bradford is also working with organizations in Haiti to brainstorm how parents could pay but without cash. Since the school will offer lunch to students, one idea is having parents assist the kitchen cook for a time or donate crops from their garden. Bradford is talking with the Alliance for Catholic Education, which has a presence in Haiti to strengthen Catholic schools. Her goal is to make the school sustainable to “empower the people to run the school.”
First day of school approaches
Bradford flew to Haiti in July to check on the progress of the future school, along with volunteers, at the John Paul II Center for New Evangelization. A few hours west of the capital, Port-au-Prince, the center’s compound sits between the ocean and mountains. Ten boxes of school supplies traveled with them. Excited youngsters then gathered on a concrete slab at the center to open crayon boxes and paper for an impromptu art lesson. They also soaked up the wonder of the new schoolbooks.
The first day of school is Oct. 3.
“I can’t wait to stand in the finished classroom and welcome in these students that the Lord has placed on my heart,” she wrote in an email. “I hope to nurture an environment of faith and joy and to continue asking the Lord what his will for this school is. No matter how small the school stays or how big it grows, I pray that it will glorify God!”
For more information about the Reveye Initiative and the school in Haiti, visit the website at www.thereveyeinitiative.com.