Class travels to Jamaica to serve, learn
Mike Dorn passed a plate of escovitch snapper, surveyed the table crowded with jerk chicken, rice and beans, plantains and ginger beer, unfolded a map, and talked about Jamaica.
The other Jamaica.
“We’re doing our work in the shadow of the Blue Mountains near St. Thomas,” Dorn, an urban education professor, said to a handful of students enjoying a Saturday supper at Center City’s Jamaican Jerk Hut restaurant, owned by Temple alumna Nicola Shirley.
Photo by Novella Keith
Education professor Mike Dorn helps Jamaican children learn about computers. Through the College of Education’s international service learning and community development study abroad course, Dorn will join 15 undergraduate and graduate Temple students in a summer I trip to St. Thomas, where they will provide computers and related assistance to schools, support a women’s center, help a farmers’ cooperative, and conduct health and sanitation community research projects.
“It has its share of natural beauty, but it’s not just a tourist destination. Being there gives us the opportunity to experience Jamaica as a country and not only as a beach resort.”
Through the College of Education’s international service learning and community development study abroad course, 15 undergraduate and graduate Temple students will spend the summer I session performing service learning projects in St. Thomas, a parish of 91,604 people on the southeastern tip of Jamaica.
Known for its Blue Mountain coffee, the area is lush with fertile fields of bananas, sugar and ginger. It’s also rife with rich learning opportunities for Temple students, according to urban education professor Novella Keith, who coordinates service learning in the College of Education and teaches the course with Dorn.
“This experience deepens students’ understanding of and commitment to addressing global problems,” said Keith, noting that students study issues faced by Third World countries, including community development, education and globalization.
“Students seem to come out of the experience transformed. It’s quite common to hear them say that it has changed their lives.”
Service learning projects are sponsored through partnerships between community-based organizations in Jamaica and Edu-Tourism, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit organization. Edu-Tourism is led by educators, business owners and professionals who work to create opportunities for learning, community service and travel with people in Jamaica.
Keith, Dorn, Shirley and professor Trevor Sewell serve on its leadership team, as does Keith’s husband, Nelson, a native Jamaican and former West Chester University professor.
Projects students will undertake this summer include providing computers and related assistance to schools, supporting a women’s center that assists pregnant teenage girls, helping a farmers’ cooperative in the Blue Mountains to develop tourism and fair trade opportunities for their products, and conducting health and sanitation community research projects, some of which revolve around disability issues.
“Our students have as much involvement as faculty do in creating a power of cooperation between us and the Jamaican people,” Dorn said. “The course is a mix of service, travel and community experience. It offers a wealth of Jamaican encounters outside the traditional tourist area.”
Elizabeth Stephens, a sophomore psychology major from Morrisville, Pa., was drawn to the course because of its focus on community service learning.
“I want to eventually join the Peace Corps, and I thought this would be a good experience,” said Stephens, who attended the information session at the Jerk Hut. “In my junior year of high school, I built houses for two weeks in Mexico with a church organization. When you help people, it changes your life.”
“We are at a juncture now, with the advances of globalization, where it’s even more imperative for us to understand one another and do what we can, collectively, to ensure that people have the basic necessities and live with dignity.
“For me, Edu-Tourism does that,” she continued. “It is social justice in action. It is also a deeper and richer kind of learning than could ever result from classroom work alone.”
Keith, who recently published a paper on globalization and service learning in the Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, also is reaching out to high school students through the College of Education’s involvement with a service learning program at Philadelphia’s Simon Gratz High School.
In partnership with Temple and Edu-Tourism, Gratz students are taking a Philadelphia-based program called “digital miracle” to Jamaica. Members of the school’s Technology Club are looking to make their own trip to Jamaica this June to provide technical support as computers are installed in schools.
“The research has pretty much established the academic advantages of service learning, but it can’t convey what you see and feel when you look in the eyes of a child — or an adult, for that matter — who had never even come close to a computer and is now beginning to learn its ways,” Keith said.
“You see awe and you are in awe,” she continued. “It leaves you wanting to do more. No matter how difficult it is, you follow through because those images and experiences won’t leave you.”
For information on the Jamaica service learning program, which is still accepting students for the summer I session, contact Keith, email@example.com, or Dorn, firstname.lastname@example.org.
– By Barbara Baals