Bolles Guatemala trip provides opportunity for student service, travel

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A group of nine Bolles upper school students traveled to Guatemala this summer as part of a new school service learning experience led by Bolles faculty, Erin DuChanois and Allison Chandler.

In addition to serving in two Guatemalan schools during their seven-day visit, students toured historical buildings, Mayan ruins, volcanoes and other cultural sites. The trip also inspired new community service initiatives and club projects expected to launch during the 2017-2018 school year.

Students on the Bolles Guatemala trip included Ellie Anderson, Patterson Guyton, Lauren MacGregor, Jordan Bunn, Chloe Coffindaffer, Kate Gatto, Kavi Kerner, Skyler Mitchell and Nick Maniatis.

“It was a trip that opened our students’ eyes and captivated their hearts,” said DuChanois. “They were exposed to the poverty that exists and to various groups who are working to teach Guatemalans how to make a better life for themselves. They also learned about people who have held strong to their ancient beliefs in a modern world.”

DuChanois is connected to Guatemala through her brother, who lives in Guatemala City and works for the Cooperative for Education (CoEd), a nonprofit organization dedicated to breaking the cycle of Guatemala’s poverty through education. DuChanois visited the country last year and contemplated ways she could link Bolles students with Guatemalan students served by CoEd.

Upon returning to Bolles, she found enthusiastic support in Chandler, who teaches Bolles’ Latin American History elective. Chandler’s first trip to Guatemala inspired her to become a teacher. DuChanois and Chandler staged a student trip application process in the spring, challenging selected students to research and present Guatemalan topics of historical significance. Selected students also spent time fundraising for the purchase of three book shelves and school supplies for the Guatemalan students.

During their June trip to Guatemala, students visited a “morning school,” where they interacted with elementary-aged Guatemalan children in the classroom and painted the bookshelves they donated. They also visited an “afternoon school,” where Bolles students teamed with middle school-aged Guatemalan students in their computer lab. In addition, they taught Guatemalan students how to create a Sway page featuring videos they had created on different topics.

“The students were so welcoming to us, and our students didn’t hesitate to get involved,” said Chandler. “It was that human interaction, the ability to learn from each other, that made the experience so special. We received much more from them than we gave.”

The trip also included touring historical buildings in Guatemala City and Antigua; climbing a volcano; visiting the Iximche Mayan ruins and watching a Mayan ceremony; shopping in colorful marketplaces in Antigua, Panajachel, and Santiago; and boating to several Mayan villages on Lake Atitlan.

“One of the students’ favorite activities was climbing the Pacaya volcano,” said DuChanois. “Roasting marshmallows on the crater of a volcano is a once-in-a-lifetime experience!”

As the 2017-2018 school year approaches, students and trip leaders are mulling ways they can continue their Guatemalan service mission. One participant wants to start a new student club that will raise funds for CoEd and help meet the educational needs of students in Guatemala. The club also aims to bring awareness to Bolles students of how education can help break the cycle of poverty. Another student wants to begin a pen pal/email program with the middle school students.

Organizers hope to plan a similar trip to Guatemala again so more Bolles students can experience the country and its people.

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