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Leaving the Comfort Zone: Service Learning Trip in Puerto Rico

Leaving the Comfort Zone: Service Learning Trip in Puerto Rico

 

“The kids are their best selves when they go on a trip like this. It gets them out of their comfort zone and encourages them to try something that gives them new, positive experiences.” -Liz Stocksdale, Willows Middle School Teacher

We’ve previously discussed the importance of Field Trips & Overnight Trips as experiential learning to its fullest extent, immersing students in unique settings to expand their critical thinking skills. Recently, a group of 25 Willows 7th and 8th Graders took a 6-day service learning trip to Puerto Rico, learning about its culture, geography, and history, all while performing multiple acts of service to benefit its communities and environment. This deep level of service learning experience gave students the opportunity to challenge themselves and their usual limits, help others, and consider their own identities, abilities, and surroundings.

Liz Stocksdale, one of the teacher chaperones on the trip, shared that “The kids are their best selves when they go on a trip like this. It gets them out of their comfort zone and encourages them to try something that gives them new, positive experiences.” Each service project that students completed not only made an impact on the communities they visited, but also gave students a deeper awareness and understanding of the world outside of their familiar spaces.

The first of three service learning projects on the trip was a visit to Casa Ana Medina, a grassroots nonprofit in Ponce started by a former teacher aimed at helping houseless populations in the area. Mainly relying on donations, the organization distributes basic need goods to individuals and families, and Willows students contributed by organizing and assembling hundreds of basic need kits to be distributed later. By helping this ongoing project, students played a role in the greater goal of Casa Ana Medina, teaching the importance of attention to details and how seemingly small actions can have a huge impact on the lives of others.

The group also visited Hogar San Miguel, a foster home for boys, aged 10-17, with special needs. Stocksdale emphasized that this project brought Willows students out of their comfort zone the most, with the two groups combining to engage in Bomba dance and learn about each others’ cultures and experiences. In addition, since the two groups were around similar ages, they were able to bond over common connections and mutually enjoy time together.

The final of the three projects the group completed was a beach cleanup, with students and teacher chaperones working together to collect and dispose of a variety of waste found on the coastline. Discussing the importance of the activity, Stocksdale shared with students that, “we need to remember the nature of why we’re here”, stressing that leaving a place better than one found it was the one of the main goals of the service learning trip.

While in Puerto Rico, the group also took time to explore multiple different areas of the island by going on walking tours and spending an afternoon on one of the barrier islands, Cayo Icacos. As important as the service projects are to the goals of the trip, it was also essential for the students to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of Puerto Rican culture, populations, and environment.

The service learning trip to Puerto Rico provided students with invaluable experiential learning opportunities. By engaging in diverse projects such as organizing basic need kits, connecting with boys at a foster home, and participating in a beach cleanup, students not only made a tangible difference in the local communities but also developed a deeper awareness of global issues and their roles within them. This trip highlighted the power of stepping out of one's comfort zone to foster personal growth and empathy. As these young individuals reflected on their experiences, they returned home with a richer understanding of cultural diversity and the significant impact of collective efforts in creating positive change.

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