LOCK HAVEN - Lock Haven University teacher education majors, ranging from freshmen to seniors, traveled quite a distance to enhance their education. On Jan. 4, 17 students, along with their professor Dr. Jane Penman, landed in the Dominican Republic and embarked on an unforgettable experience.
Students enrolled in the Comparative Special Education course at LHU made the trip to learn about the culture, education and special education services in the Dominican Republic. While completing the course of study, students had the opportunity to learn far more than what the curriculum would teach them.
Students not only had the opportunity to plan and deliver two teaching experiences at the Cabon School, but also planned and conducted a two-day science and math learning fair at the International School in Las Terrenas.
Lock Haven University teacher education majors recently returned from a trip to the Dominican Republican where they not only taught children, but had the opportunity to learn about the culture there.
San Cristobel School, home to deaf or hearing impaired students in San Cristobel, welcomed LHU students, who were able to observe the Special Education Evaluation Center.
LHU students also planned and hosted a children's carnival in Haina, where many of the children in attendance were not able to attend school due to lack of available schools, inability to afford the costs associated with attending school, or had a disabling condition. For adults with disabilities who resided in the Haina area, LHU students hosted a night of recreational activities.
The students from LHU continued their generosity and learning through additional outreach projects. Through these various efforts, students were exposed to the culture of the Dominicans and positively impacted those around them. Projects consisted of food distribution, assistance in a medical outreach in Haina, building a playground in Las Terrenas, a "Three Kings Day Celebration", and a donation to the Cabon School in Haina for educational materials.
All donations (material, monetary, and/or labor) were provided by LHU students, helping to supply 200 bags of food, medical supplies, gifts for children, and educational materials.
In addition to the educational and outreach projects, LHU students were exposed to various cultural activities such as local outdoor growers markets, visiting the Colonial City in Santa Domino as well as the Presidential Palace, swimming in the ocean in Las Terrenas, and learning two traditional Dominican dances, the Bachata and the Merengue. "This trip has made me think about teaching other places such as a third world country," said Cheyenne Skinner, a junior, Middle Level Education and PreK Grade 4 and Special Education major. "There are many countries that are in need of great teachers."
When asked how the trip impacted her life as well as her future as a teacher, Ashley Bohn, senior Pre-K Grade Four and Special Education major, had this to say, "Being able to help community members and to learn about the culture gave us greater knowledge for how a country like The Dominican Republic thrives and survives amongst poverty, lack of educational resources and services, prostitution, and many other issues that lie beneath the beautiful palm trees and blue waters. As a future teacher, this cultural experience has made me aware of not only education in general, in another country, but more specifically special education and the lack of support and awareness involving disabilities."
Among most students, the thing that stood out the most was the lack of food for the citizens, and the food distribution by the LHU students.
"When we got off the bus to deliver the food, we entered a woman's fenced in yard. As soon as we were set up, there were people crowding the fence and anxiously awaiting their food. I jumped to conclusions and assumed this was going to be the most chaotic thing I've ever witnessed and been a part of. However, I was shocked and happy at the same time when I witnessed people helping others get their food. The village leaders would call a name and hand out the food; some people were in the back and could not get through the crowd to get their food. People would help one another and pass back the food bag until it got to the designated person. They did not steal someone's bag or run off with it, they helped one another," said Hayley Pavalko, senior Secondary Social Studies and Special Education Major.
The 10-day trip to the Dominican was coordinated through the nonprofit organization "Advancing Communities by Education and Serving" (ACES). The director of the ACES North America, Linell Stabler, and the director of the ACES Dominican Republic, Porfirio Olivo Holguin, helped to facilitate the educational and outreach experiences for the students while in Haina where students spent most of their time. In Las Terrenas, Jose Bourget, Ph.D., director of the Fundacin Mahatma Gandhi, Inc., assisted in planning experiences for the LHU students.
Students were responsible for paying for the trip themselves, but received generous donations from the LHU community, family and friends. The donations received helped to support the various projects that the students engaged in while in the Dominican Republic. In addition to local support, the Dr. Mary Alice Smith Scholarship Fund helped to support students by providing each with $200 to be used to help pay for travel expenses.
"This trip has impacted my life in more ways than I had ever imagined it would," said Ashlyn Bailey, sophomore, Pre-K Grade 4 and Special Education major. "Teaching is something I've always wanted to do, and I am so lucky to have had an opportunity to make an impact on the education of the children in the Dominican Republic. As a future educator, I value and appreciate all that the United States has to offer in terms of education, and it just can't even compare to the education that exists in the Dominican. It really makes me appreciate all that we do to learn about and help diverse student populations."
Upon returning home, LHU students had more time to reflect upon the journey that forever changed their perceptions and understanding of impoverished cultures. In true LHU form, students looked for ways they could have done more.
"I would have liked to have taken extra suitcases full of clothing and shoes to hand out to the community members who were in need," said Lynette Grieb, Pre-K Grade Four and Special Education major. "How easy would it have been to purchase clothing on clearance, store them before the trip, and then distribute them? If I am given the opportunity to return, I will be bringing an extra suitcase of clothing and shoes along."
"This experience was by far the most rewarding professional experience that I have ever undertaken", said Penman, Special Education Department chair. "The maturation, growth, and learning that occurred within this ten day experience was exciting to watch unfold. All of the students embraced the challenge of living, teaching, and engaging in service learning projects in a culture very different from their own. I can't give this group of students enough accolades for the positive manner in which they handled themselves throughout the trip. I am very proud of them; they truly enriched the lives of many during this short term study."