PHS takes first service learning trip

A group of students, parents and teachers from Plymouth High School took a service learning trip to Ecuador during spring break — Submitted photo A group of students, parents and teachers from Plymouth High School took a service learning trip to Ecuador during spring break — Submitted photo A group from Plymouth High School spent spring break on a service learning trip in Ecuador, helping to build a women’s empowerment center and overcoming personal fears.

Eighteen students - freshmen through juniors - and two mothers accompanied PHS Spanish teacher Laura Koebel and PHS German teacher Sandy Nicholson on the trip from March 19 to 27.

The service learning trip was a new opportunity for students. PHS regularly takes advanced language students to Germany and Costa Rica, but the teachers wanted to offer something for all students and their parents that included a service component.

“We’ve also thought for a long time that students are hungry for opportunities to do service,” Nicholson said.

They found the right partner last November when they attended a rally organized by Me to We. This social organization, created by two brothers, provides socially responsible products and donates half of its profits to the international charity Free the Children, which coordinated the Ecuador trip for PHS.

The service component of the trip involved helping build a women’s empowerment center. The PHS contingent worked side by side with local residents to lay rocks, bend rebar and put up support beams.

A highlight for both teachers was making personal connections with those they met. “I loved being in touch with the local people and having a glimpse of their day-to-day lives,” Koebel said, adding that they helped carry water and harvest cocoa pods and coffee beans.

Nicholson also appreciated the chance to go to South America for the first time, to stand on the equator and be in the Amazon basin.

Both teachers enjoyed watching the PHS students overcome various fears - of heights, of bugs, of new foods. The trip was the first without their parents for some, the first airplane ride for others.

The trip impacted different students differently, the teachers said. Some were struck by the poverty and the lack of clean water. Some were impressed by how well the local people use their resources, making jewelry from plants, for example. All were amazed by how happy and kind the people are with many struggles and few modern conveniences.

PHS wants to offer another service learning opportunity next year, this time a sustainability-related trip to the Dominican Republic, and is looking at ways to raise funds to make the trip more affordable.

Koebel said the World Languages Department appreciates the support the district has shown for foreign trips and looks forward to offering new opportunities. “Travel is a great way to build mutual understanding,” she said.

“Global competencies are seen as increasingly important,” Nicholson added. “Plymouth is ahead of the game in this area.”

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