Grace Jacobs started her teaching career in the Peace Corps on the island of Saint Vincent in the Caribbean. She has taught for 31 years, the last 17 of those in Gifted and Talented education. She recently started bringing her students on service learning trips to the Dominican Republic. Here are the a few ways that she cultivates a dedication to service with her students before their tour.
Write an international pen pal, like a Peace Corps Volunteer
“My class had a pen pal we found through Peace Corps’ World Wise Schools. My students loved writing back and forth to a Dominican volunteer learning about the culture and his experience with service. The resources through Peace Corps Global Connections are terrific and really bring the world into your classroom. They have some great lesson plans on the website too.”
Start a service club
“I work with students in high school as the advisor for our Interact Club where we explore the theme of ‘service above self.’ I work to empower students to make a difference both in their local community and in the world by encouraging volunteerism and small fund-raising projects.
Students help out at blood drives, they help out with the local recreation department when there’s an event, and they help out monthly with the food pantry and at the soup kitchen. We support global causes such as with Safe Passage and Life and Hope Haiti and many other wonderful causes. My goal is to cultivate a dedication to service by helping these kids to make a difference now. Our annual global service trip with EF is, in essence, a capstone to years of service in school.”
Capitalize on an early desire to help
“I think children naturally really want to make a difference—they have concern and want to act. They are full of hope and they’re just looking for adults to lead the way. It doesn’t have to be a big grand thing; it can be something very small. Whether it is a food drive for your local pantry or a hat day for a school in Haiti, the work will embolden them to be able to make a difference—that feels really good. That excitement makes them want to be involved in each project. Kids are good; give them a chance to do good. They give me a lot of hope for the world.”
Prepare your students
“I wanted each traveler to have some cross-cultural understanding, as well as some basic understanding of Dominican culture, geography, and history prior to our service trip. As a former Peace Corps volunteer, I am very sensitive to this. We set up a Google classroom to share weekly “assignments”. Each post included links and information on a particular topic ranging from geography and history to cultural activities like dance lessons and food choices. My travelers love practicing the Bachata at home with YouTube! I also include political issues such as the DR’s relationship with Haiti, as well as the revolutionary Mirabal Sisters. The internet is a wealth of wonderful links to generate valuable discussions before you travel. This foundation helps the travelers dig deeper and learn more while on tour.
I always go back to the book Ugly Americans and I never want to appear as though we are. I want kids to go into the world as travelers with an open mind, not as tourists. I don’t want them to be afraid to explore and learn about differences and find common ground.”
Go on an EF Service Learning tour
“An EF service learning trip is a lot like a mini Peace Corps because it is so very authentic. We are doing the work that these nationals really need support with. We are staying in local establishments, eating in local places. In the village, we are working side by side with people that will benefit from our work—it’s really amazing.
It was really special to be in the mountains of the Dominican Republic at our service site on Easter morning. A remote and rural area of remarkable beauty. I brought plastic Easter eggs to hide for my travelers, so I got up early and hid the Easter eggs for them. The Dominicans watched me fascinated—they were watching everything we were doing. It was neat because my travelers realized this was not how the Dominicans celebrated. They, in turn, wanted to share their Easter eggs with other folks. Explaining the Easter bunny and all the excitement of Easter morning was wonderful. The Dominicans held these eggs so carefully and shared the Easter morning joy with my travelers.
Have a great time
“To me, it was really a highlight of my life to bring kids overseas and have them experience many of the same thrills that I had working in the Caribbean. Upon return, my travelers wrote me this thank you that says it all.”
We’ve all changed so much in so many positive ways. You took us on a life-changing journey that not only showed us how lucky we are, but how proud of ourselves we should be. You’ve given us the confidence that we can make it on our own, and make the world a better place one smile at a time. We love and thank you. – Your DR gang