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September 25, 2017

Extraordinary Kids: Local students build aqueducts in Dominican Republic

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Kids Giving Back:  Hillsborough Schools students give back, bringing clean water to families 1,000 miles away 

Imagine picturesque mountain views, waterfalls and tropical wildlife surrounded by the Caribbean Sea. The Caribbean Islands have long been tourist attractions, with pristine waters and sandy beaches. The Dominican Republic is one the most visited islands of the Caribbean and the second most populous Caribbean nation after Cuba. Strong tourism has led to rapid economic growth. However, not all communities on the island share in its wealth. 

A group of eighth-grade students from Hillsborough County Public Schools took action to help a marginalized community within this island paradise rebuild for a basic need: clean water. On July 16, Roland Park K-8 Magnet International Baccalaureate (IB) World School took its 2017 International Service Learning Ambassadors through the mountains of the Dominican Republic to give back. One thousand miles away from their school campus in West Tampa, the students worked alongside the local villagers of Jarabacoa to improve the infrastructure and build aqueducts to provide clean water to fifteen families. This group of 10 students spent two full days and worked for more than 15 hours to complete the project. 

Roland Park K-8 Magnet“In going to the Dominican Republic, we’ve achieved a greater sense on real world issues. With this cross-cultural experience, we’ve gained a deeper understanding of ourselves and empathy and respect for others,” says Shrisha Saravana, a 2017 International Service Learning Ambassador. 

It wasn’t “all work and no play” for the ambassadors. Hiking to stunning waterfalls, snorkeling and swimming offshore and exploring historical sites were just some of the highlights from their adventure. The students were also immersed in the culture, sampling local food and taking part in salsa and merengue dance. This immersion helped them not only enjoy the Dominican culture, but also recognize and discuss various struggles within the country. 

“This trip allowed students to develop a deeper understanding of a culture outside their own. Additionally, the profound personal growth, empowered sense of self and connections made were priceless,” says Cara von Ancken, assistant principal for Roland Park’s primary years program, who accompanied the students, along with Katie Gilson, lead teacher for the school’s middle years program. 

During Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, the student ambassadors will present to their middle school peers their cross-cultural experience and how they learned and grew from this program. 

Next summer, the school plans to take students to Costa Rica to help construct classrooms and restrooms in local schools.  

The Roland Park magnet program provides students with authentic learning experiences, coupled with real world application that connects students on an international level. An integral component of the program is service learning and students taking action on local, national and global planes.  

To learn more about Roland Park K-8 Magnet IB World School, and the wide range of magnet and choice options available through Hillsborough County Public Schools, visit sdhc.k12.fl.us. 

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