Foundation for education: Frontier kids get ‘eye-opener’ in Nicaragua
SOUTH DEERFIELD — While many high school students spend their summer vacation lounging by the beach or camping by the fire, 11 Frontier Regional High School students spent part of their break in the scorching heat building a new school in Nicaragua.
For nine days, the Frontier students, along with two Smith Academy students, traveled to Grenada, Nicaragua, where they helped to plan and construct an elementary school for a neighboring poor village.
“The plan was to be totally immersed in the community and relate it to our lives,” said Joe Costello, a Frontier English teacher who led the school’s first service trip.
The trip’s mission is to make education available for the population, where 50 percent of people don’t have access to a school, Costello said.
For six nights, students stayed in a hostel and worked for five days, building two classrooms. They lived in the community, where the hourly wage for contractors was $3.
For the final three days, students experienced the opposite lifestyle of the working class by staying at a resort hotel along the Pacific Ocean.
The trip was designed to increase student’s perspectives, Costello said.
“To be in a resort home relatively in the same place as the city, you think ‘how is this going on in the same place?’” Costello said. “You can see the class division between the rich and the poor.”
The students observed how roads turn to dirt, power lines hang from the trees and children beg for money.
“I heard that (Nicaragua) was poverty ridden. But I didn’t expect to see the destitution people live in,” sophomore Cam Blair of Conway said. “It’s eye-opening to see how others live.”
Tim Hoar, a junior from South Deerfield, said life in Grenada was the opposite of living in America.
“You can be told what’s over there. But you can’t get a grasp until you’re there. It was overwhelming at some points,” Hoar said.
A teacher for five years, Costello organized the project to provide more field trip opportunities for Frontier students.
Costello had recently finished his master’s degree in secondary education at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he met Smith Academy teacher Jeff Pluta.
In 2009, Pluta founded Amped for Education Inc., a nonprofit whose mission it is to expand education to impoverished areas of Nicaragua and throughout the world by planning, developing and building schools. The nonprofit organizes school trips and volunteer projects.
The previous year Pluta took a group of Smith Academy students abroad to Nicaragua.
“I thought it would be great to go and do something international,” Costello said.
Costello began spreading the word in school about the planned trip and 11 current and former Frontier students, whom he has taught or coached volunteered to go.
Though many of the students were acquaintances, by the end of the trip, they became good friends, the students said.
The students were joined by Amped for Education Inc. representatives. The school did not sponsor the trip. Students each paid $1,650 to go.
Students said the trip was one of their best experiences. Not only did the students build classrooms, they got to go on cultural excursions every day from zip-lining to watching a baseball game to shopping at the local market. The students traveled to the edge of Masaya Volcano, one of the country’s active volcanos.
“I think this trip was probably one of the best things I’ve done,” said Dylan Talbot, a junior from South Deerfield. “It’s helping children that don’t have it as good as I do and showing them we’re here for them.”
“It was a lot more than just building,” said Serina Cook, a junior from Sunderland. “It was the whole experience, eating dinner out on the main strip and seeing little children trying to give you flowers and you having to turn them away.”
Buying a flower would defeat the purpose of the students’ mission, Costello said.
“If we give money to kids, they won’t see education as important,” Costello said.
Costello plans to organize the trip for next summer as well.
“It was everything I could have asked for,” Costello said.
Not a single student said they wouldn’t return.