Wye River Upper School Students Provide Clean Water to Dominican Families

DR-DSC_7368Wye River Upper School Students Provide Clean Water to Dominican Families

On February 16, a group of Wye River Upper School (WRUS) students, parents and staff members returned from a week long service trip in Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic. The group was comprised of thirteen students, six parents and two WRUS staff leaders. WRUS is a college prep high school serving bright students with learning differences such as ADHD, ADD, dyslexia and other learning or social differences. This was the first experience overseas for most of these students.

WRUS Spanish Teacher, Kimberleigh Nichols, organized the trip and this was the second time within two years she led a WRUS team to the DR. Prior to her employment at WRUS, Ms. Nichols had worked at the Doulos Discovery School in Jarabacoa, DR.  Because of Nichols’ connections to the Doulos School, they readily agreed to host the WRUS crew during the 2014 and 2012 trips.

The WRUS staff collaborated with the Doulos staff to organize a variety of activities focused on experiencing the DR culture, exploring the surrounding landscape and completing service projects.

The centerpiece service project involved working with a non-profit company called Filter Pure. Filter Pure creates and distributes ceramic water filters while ensuring the community is educated on the proper usage and long-term benefits. Ceramic water filters are a safe, affordable and sustainable method of obtaining clean water. WRUS students learned about the critical economic impact, as well as health impact clean water has on third world families and communities. Students were shown in a hands-on format how the filters are made. Then they were able to hand deliver the filters to needy families rural communities near Jarabacoa. Delivering the filters was even more meaningful because prior to their trip, students had conducted fund-raisers to pay for most of filters they were delivering. “We saw their faces light up when we gave residents the filters. They were so thankful. They wouldn’t let us leave without sharing something to eat with us” recounted Mr. Martinez, WRUS Art and Technology teacher and co-leader for the trip.

Back in Maryland, the WRUS community of family, friends and staff followed the trip on Twitter and Facebook as the DR team made daily posts. “Why is clean water not a human right?” questioned Nichols in one Twitter message accompanied by a photo of students carrying water filters down a dirt road to an elderly couple’s home.

The WRUS team also experienced DR hospitality while having had dinner in local homes. “Families with very little were so willing to share what they had with us. I felt very grateful” explained ninth grader, Davienne Grogan. Another memorable experience for students included a hike to the top of Spirit Mountain, Ecological Reserve, where they toured a sustainable organic coffee plantation.

The collaboration between WRUS and the Doulos was fitting as both schools share a similar philosophy. The Doulos Discovery School practices expeditionary learning. On their website Dan LeMoine, explains “We (not just students) need to take learning into our own hands … to try, fail, and try again, and learn intangibles like teamwork, overcoming adversity, pushing oneself physically, and simply doing hard things.” http://doulosdiscovery.org/. This message is similar to that of the WRUS program, which emphasizes student learning through experiences. “To learn by doing is how the learning sinks in. Our students, like most other kids, thrive when they can put themselves both physically, mentally, and emotionally into what they are passionate about” states Nichols. WRUS eleventh grader John Engel summed up his experience in the D.R. by stating, “This was the single most life-changing experience I have ever had.”