Monday, March 16, 2015

REAL School students hit the road for sevice learning - By Elizabeth Richards

Real school students and staff embarked on two separate journeys this week to wrap up two service learning projects students have undertaken this year.
Nine students, two staff members, an Americorps volunteer, and a parent volunteer rose early Saturday morning to begin their service learning trip to the Dominican Republic. The group will stay at a mission in La Romana and work in “bateys” in the sugar fields while they are there. In these makeshift villages, students will build water filtration systems for the Haitian refugees living and working there. Additionally, students will help doctors and nurses from the Good Samaritan Hospital in providing basic medical care to the batey communities.

The school year found students preparing for the trip in a variety of ways. “We have been learning Spanish and learning about the culture, and the government and how the bio-sand filters work to purify the water,” said Curtis Arnold, a junior from Portland. “It will be cool to get there and experience everything that we have been learning about!" 
Staff member Bear Shea, LCSW said the trip allows students to experience international cultures and give back in an authentic way. In addition, he said, “It also provides them with a unique space to reflect on their own lives, their own communities, and the strengths they have to offer."

Emily Denbow, a senior from Windham, said she is grateful for the opportunity, and prepared to give as much as she can to the often overlooked people in the bateys. “You aren't helpless in your own situation, and you are not helpless when it comes to making a change,” she said. “Doing things like this trip opens up this whole new world of "what else can I do?” 

This year marks the seventh year that students from the REAL School have worked with the mission in La Romana. 

Another team of students and staff left on Tuesday for Washington DC, to deliver the products of their Veterans’ History Project to the Library of Congress. This is a project the REAL school has been involved in for more than a decade. Each year, students interview veterans to capture their stories in video documentaries. They then bring these videos to the Library of Congress, where they are archived as part of the official history of the United States. “When I was in school, I had to read about our country's history - our kids are actually creating history,” said REAL School Principal Pender Makin.

Service Learning is an integral part of the curriculum at the REAL School. According to Makin, these projects allow students to learn and practice cross-curricular concepts and skills. “We work hard to make sure that the products of their academic work have authentic value beyond the classroom,” she said. 

The projects are important in another way as well. Many students at the school have never been given the opportunity to use, or even recognize, the gifts they have within themselves, said Makin. “It's an honor for all of us at REAL School to provide these service learning expeditions that allow students to reach way outside of their comfort zones to impact the world in positive ways. This is life-changing work - for our students and for the communities and individuals they serve.”

A journal entry from one of the students:

"In America, we are separated by all sorts of things; social hierarchies, facial features, body types, clothing, beliefs, and most obviously, technology. While poverty is definitely not unheard of, we have malls, an array of foods, entertainment and opportunities everywhere we turn our eyes to. Generally, necessities are a given, to the point where things that are truly not necessities have become so. In the Dominican, the men and boys will set off into the fields to work under the scorching sun for the equivalent of pennies. Women and girls – many of whom are mothers between the ages of thirteen and sixteen – will stay behind and tend to the children and homemaker tasks. They will keep clean their house the size of your garage, which will averagely house eight people. They will fill buckets of dirty water for themselves and the children; cook a meager meal over hot coals in the already boiling heat, hand-wash and hang the pair or two of clothes they have and watch over the swarm of children running free about the batey." - Emily

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