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Haitian teen driven to achieve, help others along

MIAMI

While corralling errant shopping carts in the parking lot of a West Little River grocery store, Estanley Baptiste dreams of Harvard.

He works the late shift every night but Thursday, helping people unload their groceries and scouring the parking lot for trash. On a recent night, the parking lot empties early, and Estanley is called upon to mop the floors. This, he thinks to himself, should be part of his admissions essay.

When the supermarket closes at night, Estanley, 19, walks the nine-tenths of a mile home to the apartment he shares with a friend. The money he makes covers his part of the rent: $300 a month.

Before collapsing onto the couch, Estanley boots up the laptop he won in a raffle and looks at a poem he wrote:

I'll soar higher than minds

Nothing will put me down

I'm on my way to shine

Estanley left Haiti and arrived in Miami less than four years ago with nothing — no books, no luggage and no family.

His mother died when he was 6. His father lived in Miami, but didn't want him. He moved in with an uncle he hardly knew.

Estanley enrolled at Miami Edison, not speaking any English. He carried an English-to-Creole dictionary everywhere he went.

When his uncle returned to Haiti, the boy was left on his own.

Still, Estanley earned top grades on the state tests in math and reading, and established a tutoring program to help other students do the same. He took college-level classes, too.

Last month, Estanley became the first Edison Senior High School student to win a prestigious Silver Knight Award in nearly two decades. And last week, he graduated with honors.

"He comes from such a difficult background and he's experienced so many different things in his life," said Edison principal Pablo Ortiz. "Yet, he keeps it in perspective that he's needed to change the lives of the people around him."

Books were always important to Estanley. His mother, who could not read, supported the family by selling books in front of a school in Leogane, a coastal city west of Port-au-Prince. She died of a stroke when Estanley was 6. The boy went to live with his aging grandmother.

As a young child, Estanley was at the top of his class at St. Croix Episcopal School.

But when his grandmother suffered a stroke that left her paralyzed, he needed to make money. Estanley rented a sewing machine and trained to become a tailor.

A year later, a phone call changed his life.

The boy's estranged father, who had been granted legal residency in the United States, called on him to come to Miami.

Estanley hesitated. His grandmother had other plans.

"She wanted me to go," Estanley said. "She told me to make something of myself."

Those words pushed Estanley to excel at Miami Edison.

In school, Estanley stayed away from students who spoke only Creole, opting instead to practice his English with other teens. He made it a point to think in English.

"In Haiti, I was at the top of my class," Estanley said. "I knew I had to learn English to be at the top of my class at Edison."

• • •

Estanley has been accepted at Miami Dade College. He wants to study mathematics, with hopes of one day becoming a professor.

He wants to write a book about his life and own a new Cadillac.

He wants to send $30 to each member of his family in Haiti. He wants to visit his grandmother in Leogane before she dies.

But most of all, he wants to go to Harvard.

"Once you get to Harvard, your future is set," he said. "You get a quality education and you can do anything."

Haitian teen driven to achieve, help others along 06/26/10 [Last modified: Saturday, June 26, 2010 11:46pm]

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