Flashback to 2009 when Wood Honors College Director Dr. Kim Klein wanted to implement an experiential and progressive learning project to achieve real objectives and gain a deeper understanding of community around the globe.
The service-learning project would be part of the Honors Colloquium, and had to be international, interdisciplinary, and sustainable. Her students performed research and formed a partnership with a school that serves very low-income children in the Dominican Republic, and they’ve been working with local teachers to enhance the quality of teaching and learning at the school ever since.
“During our first visit to our partner school in the Dominican Republic in January 2010, it was apparent that the poor physical condition of the school was negatively impacting students’ ability to learn. Our students decided then that they needed to figure out how to raise funds to build a new school. It is so exciting to see how Shippensburg Honors students and professors’ persistence, innovation, and problem-solving during the past fourteen years ultimately led to the creation of this wonderful new space for teaching and learning,” said Dr. Klein.
This literacy and leadership initiative provides curricular materials and support to the Pathways of Learning School in Santo Domingo, and service in their local community for nine days in the summer.
Through an amazing collaboration between business, international studies, political science, psychology and teacher education students, among other majors, they’ve been able to keep their mission alive – serving others by improving and promoting education through the maintenance of a partnership with the school. Reach Out also strives to foster awareness in the Shippensburg community about the culture and economic need in the Dominican Republic.
Dr. Gretchen Pierce, associate professor of history and Reach Out program director said, “In the classroom, a professor may transform lives, but one rarely has proof of that. However, in a service-learning project, you can see it directly. The Ship students, the faculty, our Dominican partners, we have all been transformed by the life-long relationships we have formed.”
Ship alumna Kady Taylor added, “I was one of the original members to design and conceptualize what is now Reach Out. It’s amazing to me this project is still going strong over ten years later! As a budding, and albeit naïve, pre-service teacher, I played a role in helping to design our first project, focused on delivering materials and instruction to help both student and teachers learn English. I can distinctly remember traveling home, sitting down with Dr. Klein, and telling her we had to go back.”
This transformative way of learning gives students new concepts, but more importantly, new perspectives and time for reflection. Many graduates end up planning their futures around experiences they had while on an international service-learning trip because of the positive impact it had on them in college.
Political Science Senior Regina Yeung said, “It feels amazing to go on such an impactful trip and give back in big and even little ways. As soon as the students saw us, their faces lit up. I’ve grown so much from this experience, and it has allowed me to see other people’s perspectives on how they live. This was something I’ve never done before, and it has given me a sense of community.”
Taylor added, “For me personally, as an education major, it repositioned, expanded, and grounded me in my initial understanding of equity. That understanding continued to grow as I left Shippensburg to begin teaching. The work I began with Reach Out has inspired the continuing of my own education, leaning into my passion around equitable early literacy practices and research as doctorate student at Widener University. Reach Out, and my amazing professors who supported me, taught me that it’s ok to dream big. And because of that, I still do.”
In 2018, the discussions about the need for a new school building began to accelerate. For years, Reach Out’s partners in Santo Domingo did not have enough room in the building they were using for a school (which was once a home) and wanted more space with less noisy distractions from the nearby street. With the help of Ship student Jessica (Querry) LaRose’s father, who worked for cement supplier Argos with offices in the Dominican Republic, the school received bags of cement at a much lower cost. Then, Argos decided to donate enough to finish the project which shaved off a good portion of the $100,000 it cost to build.
The construction was completed in October 2022, and this summer was the first glimpse of the new school building for Ship students and faculty!
“Too many international service projects are ‘one and done.’ In the fall 2009 seminar, I challenged students to create a project that would be sustainable in the sense that future generations of Honors students would have the opportunity to continue the project. The faculty who has led the Reach Out project in recent years, especially Dr. Gretchen Pierce, have established a framework that has ensured the project’s future growth and success. The students and faculty meet weekly to develop curricular materials and plan fundraisers and cultural awareness events, and they plan to continue these efforts in the coming years,” said Dr. Klein.