Eighth Grade Service Week in the Dominican Republic and Washington D.C.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

As part of their service learning curriculum, eighth graders at Glen Urquhart School engage in a week of community service, globally, nationally, or locally. This year, students were given a domestic option to travel to Washington, D.C., and an international option in the Dominican Republic. A commitment to service has been part of the GUS program since its founding in 1977.

“Part of the school’s mission is to teach children to act responsibly in our community and in the world. Community and environmental service occur at every grade level, with each class offering service to benefit the school community and those beyond our school. Participating in trips like these at such a young age is really a gateway experience, which we have found encourages empathy and an interest in making a difference in the lives of others when students leave GUS,” said Head of School David Liebmann.

A group of 14 students traveled to Washington, D.C., to work with the Youth Service Opportunities Project (YSOP), which helps people who are impoverished, hungry, and homeless. YSOP volunteers prepare and serve meals at soup kitchens, sort and distribute items at clothing banks, provide recreational activities and companionship to young children, and distribute food and supplies at food pantries and drop-in centers.

One D.C. trip chaperone offered, “Students learned a great deal about homelessness: the causes and challenges and the amazing amount of commitment that different agencies put into preventing homelessness and aiding those who are without a roof over their heads.”

Students were divided into two groups and visited a different site each day. One group worked at a free farmers’ market, distributing food to senior citizens and serving them a nutritious lunch, and at an aging-in-place program, which helps elders stay in their homes. The other group collected, sorted, and distributed food donations for the hungry and worked in a clothing center that provides free and low-cost clothing, linens, and toiletries to those in need.

A highlight of the trip for the students was when the entire group prepared, served, and shared dinner with members of a homeless community. One student said, “Everyone heard amazing stories and made some new friends. We were shocked to learn that there are over 8,000 homeless in D.C., and after spending time with them, we realized they are just like us in many ways.” The week also afforded a special opportunity for students to visit Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren’s office and to explore Washington, D.C., in various ways connected to Glen Urquhart’s service focus.

A second group of 18 students traveled to the Dominican Republic. This year, GUS partnered with Outreach360, which is dedicated to bettering the lives of children through education. Students flew to Santiago and traveled on to the rural seaside town of Monte Cristi. They stayed in Outreach360 facilities and walked to and from school each day.  

In the mornings, students taught at the local elementary school, Colegio John F. Kennedy. They split into four groups and taught students in kindergarten through fifth grade. In the afternoon, they worked at the Outreach360 learning center with students in fifth through eighth grade. They had over two hours daily to debrief on the teaching experience, plan lessons, and gather materials. GUS chaperones said they were impressed by the creativity, flexibility, and enthusiasm of all the students. “Everyone had a positive attitude and was willing to jump right in—one of Outreach360's ten principles. The Dominican students loved the compassion they received and returned it in kind, and many GUS students expressed a new appreciation for the teaching process.” The GUS students also valued the friendships they made. One student observed that although “students in the DR lack material things like money and clothes, they have hope and curiosity and a willingness to learn.”

During their week in the DR, GUS travelers were immersed in the local culture and learned about the history of the region. They visited a Cuban museum and watched Black in Latin America, a documentary about the roots of racism and its persistence in such countries as the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Brazil. They also visited the flats where salt, a major source of income for Monte Cristi, is harvested.  

Back at school, students commented that the experience widened their perspective on the world and was really rewarding. Some who have been at GUS since lower school and looked forward to this trip as the culmination of their service experiences, shared that the trip had definitely lived up to expectations and fulfilled an important GUS milestone for them. All the students seem to have truly taken on a new sense of responsibility and an eagerness to use what they’ve learned to continue to serve others. Service week embodies GUS’s mission and the school’s dedication to service, where students “speak individually, yet work collaboratively, discover the best within themselves, respect all people and value their differences, and act responsibly in [their] community and in the world.”

Whitney Buckley