Alternative Spring Break takes students to Puerto Rico

The students who will travel to Puerto Rico meet on campus to prepare.

From left to right: Chelsea Watts, Aubrey Edwards, Autumn Fritz, Trent Weister, Lisa Panczner, Rachel Hodgson, Savanna Brown, and Bailee Samlal

Credit: Penn State

This year, the Penn State Berks Alternative Spring Break program will take a group of six students, along with a staff adviser, to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where they will spend the week of March 3–10, working on a mangrove reforestation project. Devastated by Hurricane Maria on Sept. 20, 2017, mangroves are an important part of the ecosystem in Puerto Rico.

The group will work with Amizade, a nonprofit organization that seeks to inspire empathy, catalyze social action, and link diverse communities through Fair Trade Learning. According to Amizade’s website: The mangrove ecosystem is proving to be an extremely important component to the health of the planet. Mangroves provide an important habitat for marine life, providing protection for fish and shellfish as well as birds. Mangroves also serve as an important component in both water and air filtration. Due to their complex root system, mangrove trees are able to slow water flow, helping to trap sediment and filter toxins before debris and toxins reach open seas. They are also extremely efficient at absorbing carbon dioxide and filtering the atmosphere.

The student volunteers recently learned about the important role mangroves play in the global ecological system when Jayne Park-Martinez, instructor in science and coordinator of research, planning and assessment, visited the Alternative Spring Break course.

Participating students chose the type of work they wanted to do for Alternative Spring Break without knowing the location, according to Autumn Fritz, assistant director of community development. Based on the group’s interest in ecology and working within the country, the option to travel to Puerto Rico to help with restoration efforts was selected.

Student volunteers include senior Chelsea Watts, Geigertown; junior Rachel Hodgson, Centre Hall; sophomores Savanna Brown, Philadelphia and Bailee Samlal, Wilkes-Barre; and first-year students Lisa Panczner, Springfield and Trent Weister, Laureldale. They will be joined by Aubrey Edwards, academic adviser.

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

The Alternative Spring Break trip was organized by Fritz and Edwards. It is funded in part through The Howard O. and Jean Beaver Endowment for Community Service.

For up-to-the-minute information the week of the trip, visit