Tag Archives: Student Stories

SCB Senior Reflection by Kristina Frye

I first got involved with the Service Cluster Board through Page One Literacy, which organizes after school reading programs to promote literacy in the local community. Besides the semester that I went abroad to Moscow, I ended up volunteering with Page One for all 4 years. Each program is a semester long, so they’ve varied greatly depending on the school, age, and reading level of the students. Each program is also run by 2-3 student volunteers, allowing you to get to know other Middlebury students you might not have known otherwise. One of my favorite parts of Page One has definitely been revisiting favorite childhood authors such as Roald Dahl while picking out books for the program.

After serving on the board of Page One for 2 semesters, I learned about the SCB Coordinator position at the Center for Community Engagement. Being an SCB Coordinator has been entirely different from working with Page One, but what I’ve enjoyed most is getting to know students from other service orgs. and working in the CCE office. Everyone is extremely friendly, and there are so many more ways to organize service projects and receive funding than I could have imagined. I’ve been very lucky to work with the SCB co-coordinators that I have, because each one has been an amazing partner to work with in different ways. It’s encouraging to see so many students finding different needs to address in Middlebury and building relationships with community partners. I think if anything has changed in terms of my perspective on working with SCB in the past 4 years, it’s that I now see those community partnerships as just as, if not more, important than the service itself.

-Kristina Frye ’17

Relay for Life Senior Reflection by Nicole Caci

I started participating in Relay for Life with my best friend Morgan, a two time brain tumor survivor. We created our first team in 8th grade, and I loved having the opportunity to help fight back against cancer. I knew I wanted to participate in college and was so excited to find such a passionate event leadership team at Middlebury.

I have been on the event leadership team at Midd all four years, but had the most responsibility this year as one of four co-leads. It has been an extremely rewarding experience to plan an event that our Middlebury community looks forward to every years, and to raise money for the American Cancer Society in the hope of seeing a world without cancer in our lifetime. I love how Relay for Life brings our entire community together. Both Middlebury College students and community members are able to spend an afternoon in solidarity, fighting back against a disease that impacts so many. For a few hours Relay lets us all come together to remember the loved ones we’ve lost, honor our survivors and show commitment to making sure no one else has to hear the words “you have cancer”. I feel as if planning and fundraising for Relay for Life is my way of helping put an end to this disease, and I am honored to contribute in this way.

I think that in my time here, student support for Relay for Life has grown. The first two years, we held our event in Kenyon Hockey Arena, but the past two years it’s been outside on Battell Loop. Because Battell Loop is so central, we are able to draw in participants that are just walking by, especially when the weather is nice and students want to be outside instead of stuck in the library. On this day, students are able to spend time outside with friends, play lawn games and eat delicious, local food, all in support of a great cause. All of this encourages students to attend our event, and helps us in the fight against cancer.

It has been an honor to serve on the event leadership team at Middlebury for so many years and I am thankful for the opportunity to help put an end to cancer.

-Nicole Caci ’17

Friends of John Graham Shelter Senior Reflection by Maya Peers Nitzberg

My work with JGS over the last two and a half years has been integral to my Middlebury experience. I have savored the weekly trips off-campus and the relationships I have built with people who aren’t 18-22, and whose lives and worldviews and goals don’t necessarily look the same as mine. Furthermore, thanks to my internship at JGS during the summer of 2014, I have some knowledge of the Housing Services network in Addison County and where Middlebury (town and College) fits in. Without a connection to the greater community, my four years in Vermont would have been far less meaningful.

Over the last four years, I have grown my branch of FOJGS from myself and an occasional friend, to an enthusiastic group of volunteers. Directing a group of volunteers and building an official school organization has surely been a learning and growing experience. My summer at JGS was devoted to the residents; as a JGS staff member, my mind was always towards was always concerned with how best to support residents, as the entered, stayed for months or even years, and moved on and out. As a student volunteer and volunteer coordinator, I had to attend to the needs of the students and to the concerns of the College, as well as of the shelter and its residents. Directing and expanding FOJGS has given me an expanded view of the possibilities and challenges engendered by social service work.

-Maya Peers Nitzberg ‘16.5

From the Architecture Table to the Pine Ridge Reservation

Six Middlebury students, funded by a CE Cross-Cultural Community Service (CCCS) grant, spent their spring break in South Dakota on the Pine Ridge Reservation. When this group of students met at the Architecture Table on campus, they did not at first imagine that they would end up traveling together to South Dakota to learn from the Lakota community and to work with the organization Re-Member. Re-Member is dedicated to raising the quality of life of Native Americans on Pine Ridge. Two students, Maggie Cochrane ’16 and Nicole Cheng ’17, reflect on the experience below.

Last Day at Re-MemberService Crew 7, Day 1 - taken with permission of family

“The program hosts groups of volunteers each week to help with home repair projects, from building porches and bunk beds to skirting trailers. There were also speakers each day who told volunteers about the history of the Lakota people’s culture and oppression. It was amazing to see the conditions on the reservation firsthand, and it was also amazing to see the amount of hope and determination we encountered. Native American communities in America often experience systematic poverty, as evidenced by and connected to their housing systems. Despite research beforehand, we did not feel that we had a grasp on what life on reservations was like until we were there. We came away with incredible new perspectives. There is a long way to go for us as a society on the scale of cultural competency, and working on Pine Ridge gave us a better sense of all that there is still to be done. We were very inspired by the people working at Re-Member and by their passionate commitment to the community. Even though we were only there for a few days, the experience felt well organized, and our small contributions still seemed to make an impact. […] Re-Member has only been on the rez for 18 years, but it has made a huge difference. It was an honor to be a part of their work.”

Us in the Badlands

This opportunity was funded by a CCCS grant. Learn more about CCCS here, and about other Community Engagement funding resources here.

Alison Haas ’16

Language, Cultures, and Students in Motion – A Spring Break in the Kingdom

Kyler Blodgett ’17 writes about his experience on a LiM-Mini-MAlt trip this spring break to Orleans County and the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont with four other Middlebury students.

Middlebury Students at LRHSMiddlebury Students

“The five of us piled into the van early on the Tuesday morning of Spring Break, wondering if we had remembered all the USBs, international candies, and travel knick knacks for the next three days. We were headed 100 miles north of campus to Orleans County and the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont to deliver interactive presentations focused on global awareness and cultural relativity to students in the area. The Kingdom, as it’s called locally, is known for beautiful scenery with a low population, even relative to the rest of the state. Social services and employment options tend to be limited, but prospects of moving out of the area are low.

With this context in mind, we had spent the previous two weeks preparing our presentations. Trained by Kristen Mullins, director of the Language in Motion program on campus, we all based the presentations in our personal experiences living or studying abroad. The countries in our group included England, Ireland, France, Germany, China, and Cameroon.

As it is with many short service-learning trips, we hit the ground running. Our first afternoon in the Kingdom we presented at Brownington Central School, a K through 8 school with about 15 students per grade. There was a nervous energy among us as we met the principal and were given a tour of the small building; though many of us had worked with kids previously, the prospect of being handed the reins of a classroom either in pairs or solo was still daunting. We didn’t reconvene as a whole group until the school day ended two and a half hours later, but the nervousness had clearly vanished long before that. We shared stories of the students’ perceptiveness, and anecdotes of way the young kids focus on the most unpredictable details that is equal parts lovable and frustrating to a teacher.

Over a homemade dinner, we reflected on our gratitude that the kids were not hesitant to ask questions or show interest in the topics, a “too cool for school” feeling we had expected. We wondered if we would get such an enthusiastic reception at the neighboring Lake Region High School the next day.

IMG_1116Wednesday morning had a similar feeling of anticipation since it was the fullest and least centralized day of the trip. We met with Lake Region guidance counselors before the first class, a conversation that quickly turned towards the respective stereotypes the students have of internal cliques, foreigners, and often themselves. Though this knowledge made our presentation topics feel even more relevant, it gave us a pause to consider how we’d be received.

Much like Tuesday afternoon at the Brownington, we were collectively surprised at the level of the kids’ engagement. By second period, word had gotten around that college students were in the building and kids would often enter presentation classrooms and whisper excitedly. We saw little trace of the non-engagement counselors had warned us about; rather, students were very curious about our travels, and enthusiastic participants in simulations and discussions. In some of our most interesting moments, we were able to talk with the students about ways they thought outsiders stereotyped the Kingdom, and use that as a springboard to conversations about cultural relativity. The students brought an energy to activities that was contagious even when our own fatigue began to catch up with us in the afternoon.

Our group met up after the last bell rang with grins on our tired faces. We’d had two early mornings in a row, but the learning wasn’t done yet. We were lodging at the Old Stone House Museum not far from the schools, and the museum director gave us a tour that afternoon. She walked us through the fascinating history of the Old Stone House as a progressive boarding school run by Midd alum, Alexander Twilight, from 1829 to 1847.

 Before driving back to Middlebury on Thursday, we met with the director of the Teen Center at NEKCA (the Northeast Kingdom Community Action association), a hub of local social service providers. In a conversation that was both lively and frank, director Allyson Howell talked to us about the realities of running the Teen Center on a shoestring budget, and the difficulties facing youth in the Kingdom. These included the location as a notorious drug highway from New York City to Canada, homelessness, and rural transportation obstacles.

We each reflected on the trip in different ways. For some, it confirmed that secondary education would be key to their future career path; for others, the exact opposite. For many of us, the trip raised questions about how we can engage with a new community in such a short time and allow learning about experience living in the Kingdom to supplement or contradict our background knowledge. For all of us, I think, we appreciated the chance to broaden our view of Vermont from the slice of Addison County that we see regularly. We’re extremely grateful to all the people on campus who made this trip a reality, and for the students and educators we met for their patience, enthusiasm, and willingness to share a moment of their lives with us.”

IMG_1131

 

Learn more about Middlebury Alternative Breaks Trips at go/MAlt and about the Language in Motion program at go/LiM.

 

Alison Haas ’16, CE Communicatiosn Intern

What Happens When 50+ MiddKids Go on MAlt Trips

This past February break, six groups of Middlebury students escaped the wintry Vermont weather, traveling as many as 3,000 miles to six respective locations around the globe. Middlebury Alternative Break Trips, affectionately referred to as MAlt trips, are service-oriented experiential-learning trips. This year the 50+ MAlt participants traveled to Guatemala, Washington DC, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Miami, and New York City, and addressed issues ranging from permaculture to privilege and poverty in vastly diverse local communities.

“The trip was eye-opening and life-changing […] I intend to try to lead a MAlt trip myself, motivated by how powerful and influential and rewarding this trip has been,” one MAlt Washington DC participant said.

Returning to campus, many students remarked that their MAlt trip has left an enduring mark on them.

Another student who participated in the Building Communities trip in Guatemala, working with Constru Casa and Tecnologia Para Salud (TPS), noted that “[…] it was more than I ever imagined and will have lasting impact on me. It taught me the power of active learning. Moreover, it taught me that it is not enough to be ‘book smart’.”

As students reflected on their rich experiences and personal growth, they also explored the ethics of service and development work. What role does service play in a community? How can we responsibly contribute to a community that is not our own? What is sustainable service and development? How can we unpack our own privilege in relation to certain communities based on identities of race, class, gender, nationality, ethnicity, sexuality, and so on? How can we best learn from each other?

Read on: MAlt participants will answer these questions, explain the ins and outs of travel in-country and abroad, talk small group dynamics and new friendships, and tell of the challenges and lasting benefits of volunteerism and service.

Over the course of their trips these Middkids kept quite busy. Elsa Avarado ’18 of MAlt Miami, a group that worked at a schools, wrote in, “Some of the projects that we did for the school included: spreading wood chips all over the playground, re-planting the garden, etc. Our days were very packed.”

Dylan Gilbert and Mariam Khan, both class of 2017, wrote about their trip to Mexico and the opportunity it afforded an unlikely group of students to get to know each other. Dylan Gilbert is an Art History and Russian double major from St. Peters, Missouri and Mariam Khan is a student of Math, Religion, and Education Studies from Waterville, Maine.

They wrote, “MAlt trips really have the ability to bring together a variety of students from across campus that would most likely never intersect otherwise. Our trip was no different. We had an extremely diverse group of 12 students (including us). Every class year was represented. Majors ranged from Physics to Art History to Women and Gender Studies to Math, and even geographically our participants came from all over the United States and even the world. All of our participants were exceptional individuals that each contributed their own unique perspective and experiences to the group dynamic.”

Dylan, Mariam, and other MAlt Mexico participants also reflected upon certain challenges that the group faced, from linguistic capabilities to the politics of international tourism.

“In addition to working with children at the daycare, our group also explored issues of inequality and poverty in San Miguel de Allende, a town known for its expat communities and tourism. Our goal was the offer a caring hand to Casa and a critical eye to privilege as we engaged in our work at the center […] Not everyone on our trip knew Spanish, which was challenging but encouraging since everyone was still able to engage equally […] The town of San Miguel itself has a problematic history with tourism and expats, and through this trip, we were able to observe and analyze the complex nature of the community while still recognizing our own role in the broader narrative of San Miguel. Overall, our experiences in San Miguel de Allende provided able opportunity to physically engage with our work and each other and also to better understand the effects of tourism on the local populations of San Miguel.”

Similar to the reflections of MAlt Mexico participants, a MAlt Puerto Rico participant noted that, “This trip was useful in informing me on culturally-appropriate service abroad.” This learning, however, certainly came with challenges, even if small ones. On the MAlt Miami trip, for instance, showering at night in an outdoor shower and staying in a low-income neighborhood posed an adjustment for some of the participants.

As far as community partners goes, the reviews of the Middkids were extremely positive. Jessica Towers of DC Central Kitchen worked with the Washington DC trip focusing on issues of privilege and poverty. She said, “The Middlebury students that came to work with us were awesome! They were friendly, helpful, and hardworking.” Community partner Cale Johnson of Casa de los Angeles, a non-profit in Mexico that provides a safe haven for single mothers and their children, writes, “We were really pleased and impressed with all of the students in the group. They came willing and enthusiastic to help and as such left a great impact on our organization.”

The students in turn expressed their appreciation for the community partners and organizations with whom they worked. MAlt Miami wrote in, “I would most definitely recommend ICO to other MAlt leaders because they truly made us feel welcome and they were so grateful for our help. Even though we were so grateful to be part of the team!” MAlt Puerto Rico also chimed in, “Working with Plenitud was a very symbiotic relationship.”

Indeed, many trip-goers said they would recommend the organizations they worked with to future MAlt participants. Despite the challenges they encountered, participants found that they made a difference in and learned from the communities they served thanks to moments of reflection, communication, and hard work. In the words of one MAlt Guatemala participant, “Service is possible by team work and willingness to learn.”

So, what do you say? Will you be next? Will a life-changing MAlt trip be part of your 2016 or 2017?

Learn more about Middlebury Alternative Break Trips at go/malt and view photos from this year’s trips on Facebook.

 

~Alison Haas ’16, CE Communications Intern

William Weightman on his 2015 Summer Internship

William Weightman presenting his research findings on VET to Stanford and Shaanxi Normal University faculty and researchers.

William Weightman presenting his research findings on VET to Stanford and Shaanxi Normal University faculty and researchers.

William received funding for his internship from the The Cross Cultural Community Service Fund (CCCS), which supports international community service, advocacy, and activism.

 

This summer I spent four weeks working with Stanford University’s Rural Education Action Program (REAP) as a research intern. REAP is an impact evaluation organization that aims to inform sound education, health and nutrition policy in China. Their goal is to help improve the lives of the millions of people by developing their human capital and overcoming obstacles to education so that they can escape poverty and better contribute to China’s developing economy.

As a part of the REAP research team I worked on their project evaluating China’s vocational education and training (VET) programs. There is a widespread belief at the upper echelons of China’s political decision-making bodies that VET is a way to give poor, rural students the skills they need for future employment. However, research has shown that VET has not been an effective tool for improving students’ economic outcomes. Not only are they learning less than their peers in academic high schools, but also many are regressing in basic skills like Chinese language and math. As a summer intern, I spent two weeks conducting field interviews with VET students and dropouts in China and another two weeks writing a paper incorporating quantitative and qualitative analysis to submit to academic journals and the Chinese Academy of Sciences—and ideally impact policy.

When someone mentions China, images of rapid development and growing prosperity frequently come to mind. Indeed, in the last 30 years China has made rapid improvements and its urban centers and infrastructure rival much of the developed world. However, in the rural parts of China far away from the developed coastal regions, millions of people continue to live in abject poverty with little hope of partaking in the advantages of China’s burgeoning growth.

It is often easy to think of economic development in abstract terms. Numbers such as GDP per capita and spending on infrastructure are important indicators. However, my experience working with REAP made me realize the important role that education and human capital play in economic development. Quality education is essential for any country to succeed. After meeting the kids that are enrolled in VET programs, it became clear to me that they are not receiving a quality education. Three main themes emerged in our interviews: first, students have low expectations for their ability to gain from VET and thus little motivation to learn; second, the schooling system is characterized by a complete lack of accountability for students to learn, engage in appropriate behavior, or stay in school; finally, the vocational education system leaves opportunities for schools to take advantage of their students for pecuniary gain through recruitment, illegal fees, and internships that benefit the school more than the student.

It became apparent to me that the educational opportunities needed to improve the lives of poor, rural students in China are not available in the current educational system. Integrating poor, rural students into an effective educational system is essential to China’s ability to make growth inclusive. If one hopes to create economic growth and development and fairness in a country, it is essential that the educational system help the least-advantaged members of that society.

-William Weightman ’17