21 Aug 2014
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Learning to Serve

Kensington kids travel far and wide to do good work.

Learning to Serve

Eleven sixth grade students and two teachers from North Chevy Chase Elementary School are venturing into the rainforests and jungles of Costa Rica this summer, the first-ever trip of this kind for the school. 

Organized by Discovery Student Adventures and staffed by an on-site travel manager, the NCC students will join three other groups from around the country, spending 8 days experiencing a way of life far different from in their Kensington neighborhoods. In addition to ziplining, canoeing and rappelling down waterfalls, the kids will participate in several service-oriented projects including rainforest reforestation and WIDECAST, a project that protects the sea turtle population by removing baby sea turtles from their eggs, taking blood samples and then launching them into the sea, saving them from becoming breakfast for the birds.

The group will work in a wildlife rehabilitation center, learning about native birds and tree sloths, as well as on sustainable cranberry and pineapple farms.

A highlight of the trip will be time spent with the indigenous Bribri tribe, learning first-hand about sustainable agriculture and even making their own chocolate. 

Jackie Moore and Michele Vicino, the teacher leaders of the trip, feel very comfortable taking this group of students into a foreign country. Moore is an avid traveler and Vicino spent time in college in Costa Rica. Discovery conducted an on-site training trip back in February, which gave the teachers the "confidence to take someone else's kids on a trip of this magnitude," according to Vicino. 

Some may wonder whether sixth graders are too young to embark on this type of trip. Moore and Vicino actually feel that this is a great age group, because they will get to participate in activities that boost their knowledge and confidence, something that often wanes in the tumultuous middle school years.

For the teachers, it's an opportunity to both teach and learn outside of the traditional classroom; and for Moore and Vicino, it fits in perfectly around their summer jobs and graduate school classes, respectively.

Another popular program for international travel and service is LearnServe International (LSI). Based in DC and targeted to our area high school students, LSI programs are focused in Paraguay, Zambia and Jamaica. According to Beth Groeneman, B-CC High School's LearnServe Fellows Program Coordinator, "the LSI Abroad trips are special because the travellers engage in sustainable community development--engaging  in activities organized by the local community that will be continued after our students leave.  Our students also build links with the wealthier segments of the local community to bring more people into the service model--and in some of the countries where LS operates, the community service model is virtually unheard of.  Having the local community be an equal partner in the service model is very powerful, and I think makes the service our students do especially gratifying."

In 8th and 9th grades, B-CC alumnus (and Kensington native) Emily O’Connor participated in LearnServe Paraguay. She felt lucky to have participated in the program for two years, as it allowed her to establish a relationship with the people in Paraguay and really see her efforts through. One of their major projects was sending 200 surplussed MCPS computers to the country, an idea initiated by the students.

For O’Connor, the LearnServe experience made her aware, at an early age, of “what’s going on at a global level in the world beyond your community, which makes you more grateful for what you have.”

The cost of these trips can be daunting, but students are encouraged to raise funds as a group and individually. Car washes, bake sales and restaurant nights are typical. The NCC kids set up a lemonade stand at their recent Field Day and made a good chunk of change. Individually, kids mow lawns, rake leaves, bake cookies and much more, to offset the cost of these trips.

Nathan Herchenroeder, trip leader at B-CC, can speak first-hand about the impact these trips have on students.

"The truly remarkable part of the trip is that it brings together so many students from different walks of life. There are students that come from schools ranging from Bethesda-Chevy Chase to Cesar Chavez in Southeast Washington, DC. When the students arrive they work on health, environment, sports and technology projects in the slums of Santa Ana with young leaders from that community and others from the more affluent areas of Asuncion. It is truly inspiring to see the difference young people make and it is life-changing for every student."

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