Teacher Perspectives: Service Learning in the Dominican Republic

If you are a school family with a student at the middle campus, you may have heard talk about opportunities for your eighth grader to engage in Service Learning abroad. To date, one group of eighth graders has already traveled to Peru, where they worked with Quechuan men and women in the Andes to help build out a Weaving Center. Their work supports the efforts of Andean women’s contributions to their villages’ economies and is hosted by Awamaki, a non-profit in Ollantaytambo, where students resided during the time they were working in these communities. Students who traveled to Peru also visited many cultural centers and sights, including – of course – Machu Picchu. It is exciting to note that in June of this year another group will travel to Peru to continue our work with Awamaki. This time we will be thirty people strong! 

Six years ago, 7/8 Language and Literature Teacher Heidi Goodwin got a call from EF (Education First), a fifty plus year old organization in the business of organizing trips for students and teachers who want to travel abroad. One “niche” program offering in EF’s many possibilities includes Service Learning. Ms Goodwin took notice, as ANCS’s mission values above all service to our own and our surrounding communities. As an MYP school, that mission also includes global mindedness, and our students are learning to speak Spanish – what a perfect fit!. 

What followed was some serious learning and planning, including a trip with like-minded educators to the Dominican Republic, where she spent a week training to be a Group Leader who could organize and chaperone students abroad. She shares: 

The Dominican Republic is a magical place. What is most memorable about the island nation – in addition to the beautiful people, warm welcoming and generous hosts who cooked incredible food for us, the dancing (Bachata!) and cool mountain evenings circling up to debrief our day and our learning, or lying back on a big rock next to a rolling river – was the forestry school, where students work and learn. Deforestation is a significant problem on the island, in the DR and more so in neighboring Haiti. What is astonishing about the work at the forestry school is that this school not only plants hundreds of thousands of new trees yearly, but that it hosts – without cost – several Haitian students each year who come to live and study, learn and work. In short, this school finds a way to wage peace through trees. It’s a beautiful thing. And the students we send to the DR for Service Learning will be a part of that important work. This is not an island vacation; students will learn to be travelers in this world, not tourists.

In February, K-8 School Farm Specialist Nichole Lupo traveled to the DR for the same tour for educators but with a focus on STEAM, Career Tech, Health Sciences, and Agriculture. About her time there, she writes:

To experience and learn from the beauty, the history, and the incredible people of the Dominican Republic is to know ourselves and our place in this world in a new and exciting way. Whether it was a guided tour of the Colonial Zone in Santo Domingo or being part of the process of growing cacao from seed to chocolate, we were welcomed and invited into community with our local hosts and guides. To be immersed in a tropical island climate, where the plants and animals and food are all vibrant and pungent and delicious, is truly a feast for the senses. The team at the forestry school outside Jarabacoa prepared an incredible sancocho for us–a hearty stew often prepared when families gather–and it felt so special to be nourished in that way. To learn from and work alongside local experts in regenerative farming; coastal restoration of mangroves, coral, and seagrass; mountain reforestation and water conservation, is an opportunity for connection and growth that we don’t get every day. I’m so grateful our students get the chance to travel in this way, and I’m excited to support them in their service learning adventures.

If you’d like more information about Environmental Citizenship in the Dominican Republic during Spring Break 2025, please reach out to Heidi Goodwin at hgoodwin@atlncs.org.