Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in a trilingual family (French, Haitian Creole, and English), learning languages was a “norm” at home. Throughout my youth, we traveled a lot on holidays and lived in different countries such as the Netherlands and Spain where we quickly had to adapt to the cultures and languages. This exposure to the world and languages soon gave me the thirst for learning more and exploring more. Speaking more languages (Deutsche, Spanish) helped me open myself to more people, understand them and integrate myself in their world.
Many years later (over 15 years ago), as a native French speaker, who had lived and traveled around the world, I arrived in New York, the place I consider “home”. I first started a career in international business and art licensing and soon realized my passion was in “giving and teaching”. In 2006, I became a teacher and since then, I have remained a school educator and director. I hold two masters degrees from Teachers College, Columbia University (one in bilingual education, the other, from the Principal Academy, in school building administration.) I have worked and taught curriculum in French, in private and public institutions (LFNY, PS58). I have worked on the administration side as a curriculum advisor and developer, in New York City (NYFACS). I am currently a consultant and student-teacher supervisor for the bilingual department, at Teachers College, Columbia University.
After the birth of my twin sons, and soon after the birth of my third son, I developed the daycare project that is Petits Poussins NY (2013), for children 6 weeks to 3 years old. One year later, Arc En Ciel NY, a bilingual French preschool for children 2 to 5 years old was created (Dec. 2014). My current Project, Bilingual Nest NY, brings the best of both of my first projects together. This new location will have both programs: on one side the infant/toddler program and on the other, the preschool program. Our bilingual students will thus be able to have a continuous education in the same environment from 3 months up to 5 years of age!
As a parent, who has traveled the world and who comes from a French educational background, I have always realized the importance of immerging my children in a bilingual and multicultural environment. My children (and the education my parents gave me) inspired me to develop these top quality programs for them and for parents with the same vision.
On March 24, 2023, Vanessa Handal Ghenania, Founder and President of VHG Group Early Childhood Language Schools, was awarded the insignia of Chevalier of the Ordre des Palmes académiques by Fabrice Jaumont, Education Attaché of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the U.S., at Villa Albertine’s headquarters in New York.
Fabrice Jaumont spoke to Vanessa Handal Ghenania’s accomplishments:
Dear esteemed guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen, Mesdames, Messieurs,
Good Evening! Bonsoir. Sak Pasé. Honneur.
Nous sommes réunis aujourd’hui afin de marquer, de façon à la fois solennelle et chaleureuse, la volonté de la France d’honorer le parcours exceptionnel et intimement lié à notre pays d’une personne qui se consacre au quotidien à l’éducation des jeunes générations, mais aussi au rayonnement de la langue et de la culture françaises.
Tonight, we celebrate one honoree who is truly passionate about education and the French language. I am honored to confer upon Vanessa Handal Ghenania the insignia of chevalier of the Order of Academic Palms.
L’Ordre des Palmes Académiques (The Order of Academic Palms) was founded in 1808 by Napoleon Bonaparte, who appreciated the importance of education and thus established honorary titles as awards for dedication and achievement in the areas of teaching, scholarship, and research. The award was later made a ministerial Order under the French Minister of Education.
Today’s award recipient is being honored for her tireless efforts to promote the French language and culture in the United States.
Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, you were raised in a French speaking household where French language and culture played a significant role in your life.
Je salue les membres de ta famille qui sont venus de loin pour cet hommage. Bonjour à tous.
You had the opportunity to travel and see the world, and this inspired you to excel in your studies and to make an impact on the world.
Your journey has been filled with numerous accomplishments and challenges, from attending a French school in Haiti to living in Holland and Spain, where you perfected your Spanish. Your journey led you to New York City with just two suitcases and a credit card with a $900 limit.
Despite the challenges, you persevered, and your hard work and dedication landed you a position as an English as a Second Language teacher at the Lycée Français de New York. Your passion for education continued to grow, and you pursued a degree in Bilingual Education at Columbia University’s Teachers College, which prepared you not only to be a great teacher but also to become a leader in education.
You even helped us at the French Embassy to launch the bilingual revolution and create the first public, bilingual French school in New York, PS 58 where you taught for a few years. A school that has served thousands of children with a quality French dual language program that inspired many educators. J’ai une petite pensée pour notre amie Giselle qui nous regarde de là-haut.
Now a curriculum expert in bilingual education, you continued in this path and contributed to the development of the first French-American Charter School (NYFACS) in Harlem. That school too has thrived and, last September, we even brought French Minister of Education Pap Ndiaye to inaugurate their new middle school. Comme vous pouvez le voir, partout où Vanessa passe les écoles bilingues fleurissent. Elles deviennent même des beaux jardins que les dignitaires aiment visiter.
Bien sûr, il n’y a pas que le travail dans la vie.
Il y a aussi l’amour. Love. Ah love… You met Zohair in 2008. I hear you and Zohair decided to take a trip to Tunisia to meet his family? Sounds like a romantic adventure, right? Well, it was… until they realized that as a proud Haitian, you needed a visa to enter Tunisia. Can you imagine the stress they must have felt when they realized they might have to cancel the trip? But you, being the strong and confident woman that you are, turned to your partner and said, “If I don’t get to go to Tunisia, it’s a sign that our story together can’t continue.” Talk about pressure!
But thankfully, Zohair’s dad had a secret weapon – a connection at the Tunisian consulate. With his help, they were able to get your visa in just two hours, and you were on your way to Tunisia in no time.
It’s funny how something as small as a visa could have derailed your journey together, but thanks to your determination and a little bit of help from a friend, you were able to continue your story together.
Cheers to overcoming obstacles and making beautiful memories together, Vanessa!
And soon after that, you faced another joyful challenge when you gave birth to twin boys and then a third son, and later a little girl. Ladies and Gentlemen, four children in New York City. Four! Talk of overcoming obstacles and making beautiful memories together! Yes, indeed! Bonjour les enfants, vous pouvez être fiers de votre maman.
But this did not stop you from pursuing your passion. You launched your first home daycare, “Petits Poussins,” which quickly grew to four other daycares and preschools around New York City. Despite the pandemic, your determination and resilience shone through, and you raised funds to open four more schools. Today, you are the proud founder of eight schools around Harlem, the Upper East Side, and Brooklyn, serving close to 400 families and helping to spread the French language and culture on a daily basis.
Vanessa, your accomplishments and dedication to education are truly remarkable. Your efforts in spreading the French language and culture have had a significant impact on the lives of many families in New York City. Your passion, dedication, and hard work are an inspiration to us all. We are honored to have you among us and we congratulate you on this well-deserved recognition.
Fabrice Jaumont went on to present the insignia to Vanessa Handal Ghenania:
Vanessa Handal Ghenania, au nom du Gouvernement français, je vous fais Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes académiques.