“It only takes one teacher. One teacher to see me for me to see myself. One.” These words from our guest, Jesula Jeannot (JJ), reverberate throughout this episode as she talks about her journey as an earthquake survivor in Haiti to a successful college graduate and marketing professional in the United States. JJ says, “At 24, I call myself a success story,” and she adds, “Look at how far I’ve come.”
As Jesula shares her journey from a challenging childhood experience to the other side of pain, it is clear that supportive teachers made a special impact on her life. Tune in to be reminded of the incredible impact that teachers can have on their students’ lives. As JJ says, “There are thousands and thousands of Jesulas out there, and it only takes one teacher to make that huge impact on my life.”
Do not let your past control you, you won’t be able to carry it for too long. Learn to cope, love, and see yourself for who you are and not what you have been through.
Jesula Jeannot, from her book, The Other Side of Pain
The following resources are available from AVID and on AVID Open Access to explore related topics in more depth:
- Community Building (templates)
- Create Community and Nurture Connections (article collection)
- Deepen Connections to Accelerate Learning (article collection)
- Blended Learning as a Response to Trauma-Informed Instruction, with Elizabeth Buffington and Conrado Julian (podcast episode)
- Accelerate Learning by Making Connections: Build Trust Through Relationships, Community, and Connection (article)
- Reassembling After Loss: Putting the Pieces Together for a New Picture, with Cherie Spencer (podcast episode)
- Connect With Families (article)
The Whole Child
It can be easy to think that school is only about academics, but almost any teacher will tell you that it’s so much more than that. JJ’s story is a great reminder of how important it can be to support the whole child as students move through our school systems.
In JJ’s case, she found great support in her AVID program and from supportive teachers. She says, “It’s bigger than just that educational portion. I always mention to people the idea of teaching the whole student. If AVID was just teaching me academic things, I would not be the person that I am today. But they see me as a person—a person who was struggling, a student who had things going on at home, a person who needed that financial support, a student who needed that emotional support—and they saw all of me and poured into all of me, not just the education part it. And that’s why I am able to consider myself a success story.”
Tune in to this episode to hear about JJ’s journey to success. The following are a few highlights from our conversation:
- About Our Guest: Jesula Jeannot is a 24-year-old college graduate and successful professional who moved to the United States as a child to live with her father after an earthquake devastated her home in Haiti. Jesula currently works as a Marketing Coordinator for Wisdom Capture.
- Earthquake: An earthquake shook JJ’s life when she was nine years old living in Haiti. She says, “When the earthquake happened, my family lost everything, and I actually lost my best friend as well.”
- A Move to the US: To escape the aftermath of the earthquake, JJ and her two younger brothers moved to the United States to live with her father, someone she had never known.
- No Time to Process the Trauma: JJ recalls, “Coming to the United States, I didn’t have a chance to deal with my trauma. I had to think about learning a new language, leaving my mom behind, learning a new culture, and on top of that, I was being bullied in school when I came to the United States, so there’s a lot of things that I needed to unpack that I didn’t get a chance to unpack.”
- A Doorway Out: JJ knew that school would play an important role in her future. She says, “Before I left Haiti, my mom told me that education was going to be the doorway out, and I knew that I had to stay focused—that I had to take education seriously.”
- Opportunity Knowledge: Free education in America is a gift, but it also requires knowledge about systems and procedures that is difficult for someone coming from a different cultural background. JJ describes this experience using an analogy: “Everybody would love to travel, but not everyone knows the process.” She connects this analogy to her experience in school, saying, “I can go to school for free, but I had no idea how to write an essay in English, how to apply for college, how to do certain things.”
- The Need for Support: “Even though I had that determination, without the support, I wouldn’t be where I am today, so I really want to focus on the importance of support.” She says this support largely came from teachers who went the extra mile for her. A key piece of support arrived when she first learned about the AVID program. The advisor told her, “It’s a program that’s going to help you prepare for college and anything you want to do after college. We’ll support you and guide you to be the best student you can be. And I was very interested because I needed that help. My dad speaks English, but not that great, and he’s too busy working to provide for us, so I didn’t have any support back home, and I had two little brothers who were learning with me, and I needed that extra support.”
- Above and Beyond: JJ says, “My teacher went above and beyond.” In fact, it was her AVID teacher who suggested she receive counseling to deal with her past traumas. It was also her teacher who guided her through high school and college. Her AVID teacher even rented a vehicle, drove JJ eight hours to college, and gave her a big hug at her dorm room, saying, “You can do this. You got this, and I got your back.”
- More Than Academics: “It wasn’t only about the education,” says JJ. “It’s about people seeing me as a human being and wanting me to be the best version of myself.”
- Self-Advocacy: Because the earthquake in Haiti had destroyed her educational paperwork, JJ ended up repeating sixth grade. Because she knew she was beyond that, JJ wrote a letter to her principal requesting that she be placed in 8th grade the next year. She wrote, “If you move me to 8th grade instead of 7th grade next year, I’ll prove to you that I’ll have the highest test score.” Two weeks later, she was placed in 8th grade, skipping 7th grade completely. And she did end up having one of the best test scores in her class.
- Developing a Network: Throughout JJ’s journey, she continually developed connections along the way—something that has been key to her success. She recalls graduating from college. “I was on the verge of being homeless because I had to leave my college apartment, and I had no place to go, and I didn’t know what my next step would be.” Unsure what to do, she reached out to her former AVID teacher who encouraged her to use her network. Her teacher said, there are “people who are willing to help you.” In response to that advice, she sent emails to 20 contacts she had made, requesting employment. JJ recalls, “Within two minutes, I got a call from Wisdom Capture, and then while I was on the call with Wisdom Capture, I had an email from AVID.” Both offered her a job on the spot. JJ sums it up, saying, “Three years ago, 2020, I was on the verge of being homeless. It shows the power of support—the power of connection and networking.”
- Her Book: Because she didn’t have health care, JJ turned to journaling as a way to process her past trauma. She did this for a couple of years before deciding, “I think I should share that with the world.” She says, “My book is not structured as a professional book. It’s structured as me pouring my heart out, sharing my experience to the best of my ability that I can recall, and I wanted to keep it like that. I wanted to keep my story as authentic as possible because it was my raw emotion, how I can picture and imagine my feelings the moment that I went through some stuff. It’s my journal that I turned into a book.” Her book is titled The Other Side of Pain.
- Defining Success: JJ has learned not to let traditional societal milestones define her success. She says, “I’ve come to realize, it’s more important to be happy. It’s more important to deal with your trauma. It’s more important to heal, and then success will come.” She adds, “Take it one day at a time, and success will come. Success is whatever you define it. For me, a big part of success, it was just to be able to smile and feel, and I’m feeling right now.”
If you are listening to the podcast with your instructional team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:
- What sorts of trauma do students bring to school with them?
- How might trauma appear in student behavior?
- What types of support are in place in your school or district to support students who have experienced trauma?
- What can you learn from JJ’s story that can inform the actions and policies in your school or district?
- What inspires you most about JJ’s story?
Extend Your Learning
- The Other Side of Pain (by Jesula Jeannot)
- Google Translate (Google)
- Trauma-Informed Teaching Strategies (ASCD)
- Trauma-Informed Care for Educators (Crisis Prevention Institute)