A group of students from Newburgh is nearing the end of a trip to Ecuador and, when they return, they’ll be applying their global service learning to community impact projects in their neighborhood. WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne spoke with a few of the students and their teachers before the trip.
Jacqueline Hesse and Christine McCartney are ELA teachers at Excelsior Academy, a six-year P-Tech program in partnership with IBM at Newburgh Free Academy. They’re also co-founders of Global to Local, a program that immerses students in another culture where they volunteer for positive social change and import that experience to improve their own community. Hesse wants students to use their experiences abroad as a springboard to arrive at a different perspective on their own community.
“While we’re in Ecuador we’re staying at a place called Casa Victoria, which is an after-school program for struggling students in Quito. The students are going to teach some coding skills to them. We’re bringing robots and tablets to donate. We’re bringing some books for their library. And we’re building a learning center on the grounds of Casa Victoria,” Hesse says. “And they’re also going to have a lot of time to spend with the woman Alicia, who founded the organization, who is an amazing example of a grassroots activist. She saw a need in her city. She didn’t want to wait for someone else to fill that need so she and her husband purchased this huge old house and redid it and made it into this program that now serves 60 students on a daily basis. So we think that will be really inspiring.”
Global to Local has yearly requirements for participation. The program builds toward a community-based service-learning project in Newburgh during students’ senior year of high school. McCartney hopes that what the students experience in Ecuador heightens their desire to better Newburgh.
“By going to another country and looking at some of the issues that that city or that area in Quito, they’re dealing with, will help them look at Newburgh in a new way and be able to sort of see the issues that Newburgh faces as challenges and something that they’re wanting to be involved in in bettering our city,” McCartney says. “So, I think, more than anything, I want them to see the power of community involvement and be inspired to what to get involved in Newburgh.”
“So upon returning from Ecuador, our students are going to be project managers for community impact projects in Newburgh that we envision being of their own choosing, partnering smartly with organizations that are already doing a lot of work, picking issues that matter to them and working together, as a group of 50, they’ll be in their 12th grade year at Excelsior Academy trying to make some change in the community.”
Some of the students have ideas for their projects. Ignacio Salim, who teaches coding to underserved youth at the Newburgh Armory Unity Center, has ideas for a project, or projects, when he returns.
“There’s two major things that I want to address in Newburgh. I think technology, upgrading the technology in Newburgh can be a really good standpoint considering that a lot of technology here is currently outdated And being a P-Tech program we have that background knowledge to pursue it effectively,” says Salim. “Also, one of my teachers once told me that if the city looks like a jungle than people are going to act like animals. And if we could renovate different areas around Newburgh that may look under… or just not professional at all and we could fix the streets and fix houses that have been abandoned and fix all of these different things and make the City of Newburgh look beautiful, then the people will change their perspectives while they’re here.”
He would like to see improved technology to make the streets safer, for example. Addison Lima hopes to make deep connections with students at Casa Victoria.
“Listen to them, give them advice and help them with schoolwork or even choices they have to make in life,” says Lima.
He would like to serve as a mentor upon return and improve his youth leadership skills. For Elise Goings-Perrot, the Ecuador trip is a perfect marriage of two big parts of her life — travel and community service.
“I’m kind of thinking of doing something anti-violence, how violence isn’t always the answer, and they can put those feelings, those violent thoughts into something else,” says Goings-Perrot. “So if you can put that into a project, art-based or technology based, maybe you can funnel kind of those things into a different aspect in somebody’s life.”
Hesse talks about another aspect of the program abroad.
“While we’re in Ecuador, we’re actually going to be implementing a very short, since we’re only there for 10 days, leadership curriculum. So we’re going to work with the students while we’re there to actually build some concrete skills, such as how to speak to someone when you need to form an alliance with them or a partnership with them when they’re maybe not seeing your goals as being aligned,” Hesse says. “Or we’re going to talk about collaboration and working smartly within a group. And these are professional skills that we already use in Excelsior but because these students are going to be project managers, we want to make sure that they’re equipped with the skills that they’re going to need. So we’ll be modifying curriculum that we’ve actually taught to adults as facilitators with teachers from around the Hudson Valley and using that with our students to make sure that they’re as ready as possible for their work in the fall.”
The plan is to continue trips abroad. McCartney says Cambodia is a possibility next year and India the following year.
“ So, the goal is to really sort of switch up where we’re at each year so that we’re slowly building our capacity to enact change in our own community because we’ll be learning so much from so many different communities,” says McCartney.
When you enter one of the Newburgh Free Academy buildings, there is a large chalkboard where a sentence begins and students fill in the rest. The start is, “Before I die, I want to…” So I brought that unfinished sentence to the three students in this piece.
“Before I die I want to lead to greatness,” says Goings-Perrot. “Yeah, I want to make the world a better place like any other good human being would.”
“Before I die I want my impact to be something great that will continue on,” says Salim. “I want my impact personally to stay and to show that it actually did something to benefit the community around us.”
“Before I die I want to change the word immigrant to be seen as equal as everybody, as citizens from one nation,” says Lima.
Though the Ecuador trip is nearing the end, students are giving updates online.