Alternative Spring Break Takes Students to Belize

The Penn State Berks third annual Alternative Spring Break will take a group of 20 Penn State Berks students, along with Chancellor R. Keith Hillkirk and his wife, Suzanne Hillkirk, to Belize where they will spend the week of March 1?8, 2013, helping to complete the St. Benedict Primary School in the Toledo District of Belize. The group will join ProWorld Service in the revitalization project.

Student volunteers include seniors Cara DiPiazza from Hillsdale, NJ, Amanda Gonzalez-Ortiz from Philadelphia, Katelyn Harley from Delran, NJ, and Nicol Varona from West Lawn; juniors Katherine De Crescenzo from Roseto, Josh Garcia from Fleetwood, Jillian Heyman from New Providence, NJ, Brenna Lauer from Phillipsburg, NJ, Caitlin Miller from Macungie, Myrtle Richards from Bronx, NY, Melissa Sauer from Phoenixville, and Kayla Welch from Mcadoo;

Sophomores Kiernan Boone from Parsippany, NJ, Kevin Fernandez-Moralez  from Reading, Nicole Heker from Princeton, NJ, Alexandria Miller from Manheim, Emily Newman from Lititz, and Devon Rodriguez from Los Angeles, CA; and first-year students Leilani Nenadich-Gonzalez from Philadelphia and Cody Yackanicz  from Schwenksville.

The project was organized by Andrea Pfaff, Assistant Director of Campus Life, who will also join the student group, along with Kelli Meyer, Student Activities Coordinator.

As part of their service project to help complete the St. Benedict Primary School in the Toledo District of Belize, Penn State Berks students will be working to complete one classroom, installing a computer lab, and building a library. Work will include painting, installing ceiling tiles, assembling furniture installing software, teaching the students basic computer skills, building bookshelves, creating a library collection from donated books, and other projects as determined by the site team.

According to Paff, the goal of the project is to build positive relationships with the community, empower community members to continue building and developing positive changes in their community, and to assist the community in completing the construction of the primary school. A secondary goal of the program is to introduce Berks students to another culture, while sharing their culture with the host community.

The team will also have the opportunity to participate in a variety of cultural excursions and experiences. Students will fully engage with their host families for one week and reflect on their developing and expanding worldviews in a series of stimulated recall reflections led by Paff and the ProWorld staff. Many students will also keep a reflective journal, which is strongly recommended but not required.

The students will stay in Belize for seven days, four of which they will spend on the construction project. They will stay with host families, who will provide room and board for the students and staff members. Staying with the families will give the students an opportunity to learn more about the community. The host families are located in Punta Gorda, which is located just a few minutes from the school Both are located in the Toledo District.

The Toledo District has by far the highest poverty rate in Belize, and regularly ranks the lowest with regards to education, health, infant mortality, and similar measures of standards of living.

When they are not working on the school project, the students will have time to explore the region. They will also enjoy a traditional Mayan lunch and tour the Lubaantun Maya Ruin. They will enjoy a Creole dinner and take a drum lesson. They will visit a local organic Mayan chocolate factory and the Rio Blanco waterfall in Santa Cruz.