Making a Difference in One Week – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Making a Difference in One Week

During Spring Break, 39 students volunteered a total of 1,100 hours through four alternative spring break opportunities. The students participated in the Galloway Early Childhood Institution and Coke’s View Primary School in Petersfield, Jamaica; the Rural & Migrant Ministry in Lyons, N.Y.; Pocahontas State Park in Chesterfield, Va.; and at the Mariam Boyd Elementary School in Warrenton, N.C. 

Under the direction of Assistant Professor of Psychology Brien K. Ashdown, 11 students traveled to Jamaica. In preparation for the Jamaica trip, students enrolled in a half-credit course with Ashdown. Similar to a Reader’s College, the students prepared for the experience by reading several articles and books prior.

While in Jamaica, the students helped the teachers organize class instruction and tutored kids in reading, English and math.

Hannah Meyer ’14 called her work an “eye-opening experience.” “The teachers focused mainly on the kids who sat in the front of the classroom so we were able to provide help and instruction for the kids who were receiving less attention in the back. It was a rewarding yet, humbling experience,” she says.   

In the afternoon, the students traveled around the island seeing firsthand the differences between the Jamaica that tourists are accustomed to and the Jamaica that not many people come to see.

“I was pleasantly surprised that the community of Petersfield was extremely friendly and welcoming to our group,” Meyer adds.

In Lyons, N.Y, seven students worked with the Rural & Migrant Ministry, a statewide, non-profit organization that advocates for social change through education about the working conditions of migrant farm workers.   

“I am interested in migrant workers’ rights,” explains Zoe Van Nostrand ’14, a social justice major. During the trip, the students had the opportunity to meet with local community leaders and politicians. “It was mind boggling how many community leaders understood very little of the issues that affected nearly 8,000 migrant workers who come to Lyons for the harvest season,” she says.   

The students lived in a house provided by the ministry and worked in the orchards with migrant workers, experiencing firsthand the struggles that migrant workers face while trying to provide for themselves and their families.

In Virginia, 10 students spent the week at Pocahontas State Park, where they laid foundation for an outdoor bathroom, built a retaining wall, and helped the park rangers paint park offices. The group was led by HWS IT Senior Technician Support Specialist Chad Goulette.

“I had a great time traveling with the students and getting to know them outside of the academic atmosphere,” said Goulette.  “We were treated very well by the rangers at Pocahontas State Park and the students put in a tireless effort into every project they were given.” 

In North Carolina, 11 students, led by German Fulbright Teaching Assistant Tanja Bruxmeier, spent the week tutoring students at the Mariam Boyd Elementary School. The students provided teachers with general classroom assistance and one-on-one tutoring in reading, writing and math.

Jessica Lynn ’14, a member of the education program at HWS, says that the experience bolstered her desire to pursue a career in education. “I would without a doubt participate again,” says Lynn. “The teachers at the school were extremely supportive of both their kids and of us.”

The four trips each created presentations in culmination of their alternative spring break and presented them at the end of the semester at the Intercultural Affairs House.  At the talk, President Mark D. Gearan thanked the participants for their service and stressed the importance of finding similarities between communities in an age of increasing technology and diminishing world boundaries. 

“You may not be able to personally see the difference you have made in one week, but the impact far exceeds your perceptions.  The impact has lifelong influences on everyone involved,” says Gearan.    

The photo above features HWS students working at the Mariam Boyd Elementary School in Warrenton, N.C.