Oakton Students Make a Difference During Service-Project Trip to Puerto Rico

(Sept. 14, 2018) During a recent service trip to Puerto Rico, a group of Oakton Community College students withstood nuisances like ants, termites and cockroaches to help a school ravaged by Hurricane Maria prepare for the school year.

Karen Roth, service learning coordinator and Cheryl Thayer, sociology lecturer,  led a group of six students who spent a week in Puerto Rico helping to spruce up classrooms at La Escuela Agapito Rosario, a public school in Vega Baja, just outside San Juan. The group included Sammie Heinz (Northbrook), Robin Dreifuss (Glencoe), Regina Rizal (Chicago), Aishat Mohammed (Chicago), Jasmine Cetinbag (Chicago) and Abdallah Simmons (Brooklyn, New York).

“Our duties involved helping to clean up classrooms in preparation for an increased class size, as several of the island’s schools were shut down to destruction,” Roth says. “In addition, we assisted with student assessment data, painting a mural and general outside courtyard cleanup. Students learned a great deal about the public school system in Puerto Rico, what families experienced during the hurricane and worked alongside teachers practicing Spanish.”

During the service project, students had the opportunity to meet the mayor of Vega Baja and also do some sightseeing. They were presented with tokens of appreciation for their accomplishments as they departed.

“The mayor is also a teacher, and he presented us with pins and key chains,” Mohammed says. “It was nice to be recognized for our work, and everyone there made us feel welcome. The people there were so friendly, and they treated us as though they knew us our entire lives.”

Thayer adds, “We were treated like we were celebrities.”

Mohammed said the experience helped her and other students come away with a new perspective.

“Students there are still struggling with the aftermath of the hurricane, and some schools still don’t have electricity,” she says. “The trip helped me to realize that education – as well as every single moment – shouldn’t be taken for granted.”

The Puerto Rican school is already looking forward to the next visit by Oakton students, perhaps as soon as summer 2019.

“When we left, the classrooms were in tip-top shape and ready for the school year,” Roth explains. “Oakton students took great pride in their work. We’re working on creating a curriculum that includes a learning community experience at the school for next summer. In addition, we’ve also been asked to develop a service learning partnership between Oakton and La Escuela Agapito.”