Lock Haven University teacher education majors travel to Dominican Republic

Seventeen Lock Haven University teacher education students and their professor Dr. Jane Penman, recently traveled to the Dominican Republic to enhance their education.

Students enrolled in the comparative special education course at LHU made the trip to learn about the culture, education and special education services in the Dominican Republic. Students not only had the opportunity to plan and deliver two teaching experiences at the Cabon School, but also planned and conducted a two-day science and math learning fair at the International School in Las Terrenas.

San Cristobel School, home to deaf or hearing impaired students in San Cristobel, welcomed LHU students, who were able to observe the Special Education Evaluation Center. LHU students also planned and hosted a children’s carnival in Haina. For adults with disabilities who resided in the Haina area, LHU students hosted a night of recreational activities.

The students assisted with projects consisting of food distribution, assistance in a medical outreach in Haina, building a playground in Las Terrenas, a “Three Kings Day Celebration” and a donation to the Cabon School in Haina for educational materials. All donations were provided by LHU students, helping to supply 200 bags of food, medical supplies, gifts for children and educational materials.

“This trip has made me think about teaching other places such as a third world country,” said Cheyenne Skinner, junior, middle level education and pre-K grade four and special education major.

“Being able to help community members and to learn about the culture gave us greater knowledge for how a country like the Dominican Republic thrives and survives … As a future teacher, this cultural experience has made me aware of not only education in general, in another country, but more specifically special education and the lack of support and awareness involving disabilities,” said Ashley Bohn, senior pre-K grade four and special education major.

Among most students, the thing that stood out the most was the lack of food for the citizens, and the food distribution by the LHU students. “When we got off the bus to deliver the food, we entered a woman’s fenced in yard. As soon as we were set up, there were people crowding the fence and anxiously awaiting their food. … The village leaders would call a name and hand out the food … People would help one another and pass back the food bag until it got to the designated person. They did not steal someone’s bag or run off with it, they helped one another,” said Hayley Pavalko, senior secondary social studies and special education major.

The 10 day trip was coordinated through the nonprofit organization “Advancing Communities by Education and Serving” (ACES). The director of the ACES North America, Linell Stabler, and the director of the ACES Dominican Republic, Porfirio Olivo Holguin, helped to facilitate the educational and outreach experiences for the students while in Haina.

In Las Terrenas, Dr. Jose Bourget, director of the Fundacion Mahatma Gandhi Inc., assisted in planning experiences for the LHU students.

“This trip has impacted my life in more ways than I had ever imagined it would,” said Ashlyn Bailey, sophomore, pre-K grade four and special education major. “Teaching is something I’ve always wanted to do, and I am so lucky to have had an opportunity to make an impact on the education of the children in the Dominican Republic.”

Some students looked for ways they could have done more. “I would have liked to have taken extra suitcases full of clothing and shoes to hand out to the community members who were in need,” said Lynette Grieb, pre-K grade four and special education major. “If I am given the opportunity to return, I will be bringing an extra suitcase of clothing and shoes along.”

“This experience was by far the most rewarding professional experience that I have ever undertaken,” said Penman, Special Education Department chair. “The maturation, growth and learning that occurred within this 10 day experience was exciting to watch unfold. All of the students embraced the challenge of living, teaching and engaging in service learning projects in a culture very different from their own.”