Immigrant takes top prize in essay
Balloons tied to shrubbery floated alongside the walkway at the entrance to the John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Brockton last Friday afternoon.
The superintendent of schools, Brockton's mayor, various politicians, and the entire sixth-grade class gathered in the cafeteria. Sharon Robinson, an emissary of Major League Baseball and daughter of the late Hall of Fame baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson, had come to make a special presentation.
The object of the attention, Carlaine Pierre, an 11-year-old Kennedy School sixth-grader, alternated biting her lower lip and smiling broadly as she was showered with praise and gifts.
A Haitian immigrant who came to this country with her parents and younger brother three years ago, Carlaine was honored as the grand prize winner of a national essay contest on ''breaking barriers," sponsored by Major League Baseball.
''I was so surprised when they told me I won," she said after the ceremony. ''I didn't believe it."
Carlaine's winning essay was on overcoming the language barrier she faced in this country.
''To overcome it, I needed to make a commitment and have a lot of determination," she wrote in her essay. ''Following that commitment seemed impossible, but promising myself that I would learn to talk in English was what made me follow through. I'd sometimes read or watch television so I could learn to read, speak, write, and pronounce the words correctly. . . Even though sometimes I was tempted to give up and go back to speaking only Haitian Creole, I continued on. I may not have always said the right things, but I continued on for others and myself."
Carlaine also wrote about maintaining her connection to her Haitian language and culture.
Sharon Robinson said that the contest drew about 6,000 entries, including hundreds that referred to overcoming language barriers. Carlaine's expressed desire to stay in touch with her native culture was what set her essay apart, Robinson said
Robinson presented Carlaine with a notebook computer, a custom-made Jackie Robinson jacket, and a 100-book library. In a question and answer session with youngsters gathered for the ceremony, she also shared recollections about her father and his struggles as he broke baseball's color barrier. ''The purpose of this program is to help young people understand that obstacles are a part of life," Robinson said.
The 576-pupil Kennedy School, located on Brockton's west side, offers bilingual instruction for Haitian students. There are about 100 Haitian children in the school, according to Garry Guilloteao, adjustment councilor for the Kennedy School.
''For the Haitian students this is an inspiration," Guilloteao said of Carlaine's winning the essay contest. ''It tells them they can overcome the language barrier, which is a serious problem for many of them."
Carlaine's father, Richard Pierre, was a congressman in Haiti. He fled the country with his family for political reasons. He and his wife, Marie, beamed throughout the ceremony.
Carlaine's teacher, Jami McDuffy, read about the essay contest in a magazine and encouraged her students to enter. Of her prize-winning pupil, McDuffy said, ''She is the most wonderful young lady. She is very considerate, very humble. She does everything I ask her. She's a teacher's dream."
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.