Alternative Spring Break to Jamaica broadens students' perspective

Student with a member of the elementary school

Penn State Berks student Trent Weister interacts with one of the students from the Galloway Early Childhood Institution (ages 3-5) in Petersfield, Jamaica.

Credit: Genesis Cruz / Used with permission

WYOMISSING, Pa. — This year, the Penn State Berks Alternative Spring Break took a group of six students and two staff advisers to Petersfield, Jamaica, where they worked with early education and elementary school children. The experience has broadened the students’ perspectives about the education system in foreign countries.

The students were split into two groups: half worked with children ages 4-5 at Service Work School and the other half worked with children ages 9–11 at Coke View Primary School. The Berks students also helped the children to plant a field of corn for the kids to eat and spent time getting to know them.

Berks students with elementary students from the school

Penn State Berks student Jenna Ulrich spends some time with students from the Galloway Early Childhood Institution, in Petersfield, Jamaica.

Credit: Genesis Cruz / Used with permission

Berks students, all from Pennsylvania, on the trip included junior Genesis Cruz, of West Reading; and sophomores Valeria Pena Dominguez, of Reading; Lisa Panczner, of Springfield; Emily Seisler, of Temple; Jenna Ulrich, of Oley; and Trent Weister, of Reading. They were joined by Angela Cuva, assistant director of campus life, and Aubrey Edwards, academic adviser.

Panczner, an engineering major, worked with early education children and she stated, “I loved working with the kids. I got to see what the schools were like and the children’s reaction to having us in the classroom. For many, it was the first time they ever saw a White person.”

Applied psychology major Cruz was the only adult in her classroom and she was surprised by how well behaved the children were for a ‘substitute’ teacher. “The kids were so polite. I had the best experience because it was just me and the kids.”

For Ulrich, an agriculture sciences major, walking around the compound with the kids was her favorite memory. “It is so different from here–very minimalistic. The school was one building with three classrooms. It makes you feel guilty for what you have.”

Weister, an engineering major, summed up the students comments, stating, “With none of us being education majors, we all experienced something we wouldn’t normally have done. The education system [in Jamaica] is based on students' skills. In a certain grade, students choose a vocation. Only a few can get into a university.”

Elementary School in Jamaica

Coke’s View Primary School (grades 1-6) in Petersfield, Jamaica.

Credit: Aubrey Edwards / Used with permission

The group worked with Amizade, a nonprofit organization that seeks to inspire empathy, catalyze social action, and link diverse communities through Fair Trade Learning. Amizade volunteers have the opportunity to learn about local history and culture and stay with local families in homestays, designed to further cultural learning and deepen personal relationships.

The students are enrolled in the hybrid course “Alternative Spring Break–Jamaica” to prepare for the trip. This course covers the island’s history and culture, as well as concepts involving global citizenship and service philosophies.

The Alternative Spring Break trip was organized by Cuva and Edwards, along with Autumn Fritz, assistant director of community development. It is funded in part through the Howard O. and Jean Beaver Endowment for Community Service.

“The students were exposed to a lot of things that are very different than they are in the United States, Cuva summarized. “The trip really opened their eyes to a new perspective.”