BOCA RATON—Haitian students must be taught in their native Creole to give them the ability to compete effectively with their English-speaking classmates, advised the keynote speaker at a regional conference on Haitian educational issues.

‘We are tested on intelligence through language,” said Eddy Bayardelle, chief operating officer of the U.S. Committee for UNICEF.

Bayardelle spoke from experience Saturday while addressing the crowd of roughly 400 gathered at Florida Atlantic University. FAU’s Multifunctional Resource Center sponsored the conference.

”I am a high school dropout,” Bayardelle said, explaining that, like so many other Haitian immigrants, his inability to communicate in English posed a major obstacle.

Bayardelle managed to overcome his feelings of alienation enough to join the U.S. Army at age 17.

Although he improved his English skills enough to earn his GED and later a doctorate in education from New York University, Bayardelle recalled that the process was not without difficulty.

”I ended up doing a lot of push-ups simply because I didn’t understand what people were saying to me,” he said of his Army experience.

While Bayardelle pushes for increased bilingual education, a growing movement in Florida and across the nation just as firmly advocates English-only education.

”English is the unifying language in this country,” said JoAnn Peart, a Delray Beach resident and founder of Floridians for Immigration Control, in a telephone interview Saturday.

”It would be lovely if we were able to teach everyone in his own language, but it is not practical and it is not the responsibility of the American taxpayer,” Peart said.

Bayardelle said he recognizes that money always will be a concern, but schools could have the best of both worlds if they used bilingual education to teach English speakers another language and culture.

The students would have a greater understanding and appreciation for language if they were taught a foreign language from an early age, he said.

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