LAKEWOOD RANCH — In Christiane Zablit-Lorts’ advanced French class at Out-of-Door Academy on Friday, eighth-grader Stephann Etienne amazed classmates with his fast French.
It’s not hard, he explains, when you grow up in Haiti in a family that speaks French and Creole.
The juniors in this French 4 class just met Stephann, 14, in February when Out-of-Door Academy, after hearing that he was an earthquake survivor whose school had collapsed, gave him a scholarship for this year so he could continue his education away from the chaos of his Port-au-Prince home.
His classmates speak of how he is always smiling and how funny he is and his quiet nature. His English is getting better and better and he’s already, in two months, become a big part of the ODA track team with his high-jumping.
“In eighth grade at ODA the students write poems,” said junior Nick Contino. “Stephann shared his poetry book with us the other day and we were amazed. He is the sweetest guy. All the poems were about being tender to girls and many of them were funny.”
“He has a big heart,” said junior Amelia Cotter.
But what the classmates don’t know about is all the horrific things Stephann saw on the day of the earthquake, things hard to forget.
His mother and father were unhurt in the quake, but on a trip through Port-au-Prince with his father a few days after the quake, Stephann said he saw people in the streets and he didn’t know whether they were dead or alive.
It was impossible to tell because some of the living were just exhausted and had decided to lay down next to the dead.
The shaking and rippling earth he felt that day has also stayed with him.
“I was playing basketball recently and the bouncing of the ball against the floor made me feel strange,” he said.
On the day of the earthquake, Stephann was on his computer in a suite of La Griffonne, the Port-au-Prince hotel owned by his mother Christine.
Around 4:30 p.m., the room began to shake. Christine yelled, “Earthquake,” and ran out of the hotel. One of the two buildings that comprise the hotel collapsed; there were some injuries.
But Stephann and his mother were unhurt.
Stephann’s father Edgard, a director of faculty and a science teacher at a university in Port-au-Prince, was in a three-story building that survived the quake.
Stephann’s school, where he might have been if he had afternoon classes, totally collapsed.
The collapse claimed the life of Stephann’s English teacher.
His parents got Stephann out of Haiti and to Hollywood, Fla., where his grandmother lives. An aunt, who lives on Siesta Key, drove to Hollywood and picked him up. She contacted Out-of-Door Academy.
“The family came to us through a family friend,” said Jamie Carver, director of middle and upper school admission at ODA.
For many Haitians, the earthquake has made accessibility to personal funds difficult. Stephann needed financial help and the school decided to help, Carver said.
Stephann said he is enjoying ODA, but being away from home is hard.
“I talk to my mom a lot,” Stephann said. “She calls me every Saturday and we talk about decisions I have made and what she thinks.”
One can tell by peering into Stephann’s eyes that he is missing his mother and father, but he is making the best of a terrible situation.
“I feel it is good for kids to be in touch with reality,” Zablit-Lorts said. “I think having Stephann with us has made the kids aware that we must take care of others, as well as ourselves.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.