For over a decade, members of the William and Virginia Darr Honors Program have visited such exotic locales as Rome, Italy; Athens, Greece; Paris, France; Amsterdam, the Netherlands; Dublin, Ireland; the Swiss Alps; and Beijing, China, as part of short-term study away experiences designed to bring the concepts they’ve studied in class to life.
This year, for the first time in program history, honors program members, along with director Alex Pinnon, participated in a service-learning program in the Dominican Republic as part of their annual excursion.
The group, which included students Ashley Gadberry, Gallatin; Melinda Lee and Weston Phipps, both of West Plains; Billie Randle, Thayer; Destiny Johnson, Bakersfield; and Robert Fowler, Arnold, departed May 21 for the country’s capital, Santo Domingo.
While there, they toured the city’s Colonial Zone and learned about the history of the Dominican people; the Caribbean nation’s native inhabitants, the Taino, who are now extinct; and the effects of European colonization.
Students Learn By Doing
Afterward, they traveled by bus to Jarabacoa where they worked at the National School of the Environment and Natural Resources to learn about sustainable living.
“Since their school motto is ‘Learning by Doing,’ we worked from about 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.,” Pinnon said. “Students planted trees, cared for trees in the nurseries and built natural landscaping, among other work.”
Students also helped paint murals on some of the living quarters to beautify the property. Altogether, the group donated about 210 hours of service at the school, Pinnon said.
When they weren’t working, students attended traditional dance lessons, went white water rafting, and hiked through jungles, Pinnon said.
Santiago and the Punta Cana Reef
The final two days of the trip were spent in Santiago touring the city and visiting the Punta Cana Reef, where they snorkeled.
The group returned May 30 after a very successful trip.
“Some of my students who had been on previous trips said the service learning aspect of the trip made it 10 times better than the other trips,” Pinnon said. “They reassured me that they loved the other ones, too, but this one was much different.
“The service learning provided a lot of group discussions and reflections about how to apply our learning back home,” he added.
“Since we worked so closely with a group of people over a week, my students developed actual relationships with the people we visited,” he explained.
Future Service Learning Trips
The service learning component worked so well, Pinnon said, that he plans to incorporate similar trips into a regular cycle. “I am already planning a return trip to the Dominican Republic for 2020,” he said.