Greenfield High students to seek new perspectives in the Dominican Republic

  • Greenfield High School students Dionn Casanova, 17, and Morghan Blanchard, 17, speak with their teacher Terri Dodge in preparation for a service trip to the Dominican Republic. Recorder Staff/Joshua Solomon

Staff Writer
Published: 7/23/2018 6:02:46 PM

GREENFIELD — When a friend returned from two weeks teaching in Nicaragua last summer, Dionn Casanova listened to him with rapt attention.

To Dionn, his friend, Lazarous “Laz” Santiago, is like an older brother.

“I probably didn’t say a word for an hour because he was just telling me everything about the trip,” Dionn recalled.

Laz had traveled with a dozen of his Greenfield High School classmates, and Dionn will follow in his footsteps by attending the now-annual trip that takes a handful of 12th-graders to a country where they teach English, work with locals and travel the land. This year, the group is traveling to the Dominican Republic.

The opportunity comes with the help of Global Glimpse, a nonprofit organization that partners with high schools to bring students together and teach critical thinking through travel.

Dionn is still wrapping his mind around what is ahead of him and how he even got to this point. Laz said his trip put life into perspective.

“All of the places I could’ve been, I got to be born in America with privilege. Even though I didn’t have the best life, it’s better than most lives there. It just made me feel lucky,” he said.

Dionn still remembers “the sparkle in everyone’s eyes” when they returned from Nicaragua, “to little, tiny Greenfield, Mass., and looking around — it was like, ‘Whoa.’ ”

Teacher Terri Dodge will lead this new group to the Caribbean island nation, but it won’t be to the beaches and tourists, but rather, the countryside where rural poverty is an issue that cannot be ignored.

“My family is from Puerto Rico,” Dionn said. “So I can understand a lot of the poverty and issues they’re going through” in the Dominican Republic.

What the Caribbean nation will look like, how it will compare to home and what it’ll be like to leave home were questions the students recently pondered.

Maddy Cady, 17, remembers seeing her friends post pictures of waterfalls and mountains on social media when they got back from Nicaragua. Then, she heard about the sickness and the labor and the poverty they saw there, but also the lessons they learned and stories they carried back with them.

“What they saw, versus what we saw,” she said, motivated her to want to go and see beyond the pretty pictures.

This was a common theme expressed by students in the program. That might surprise folks who find teens these days always on their phones. In fact, the group will be without phones for the entirety of the trip.

“That sounds so much better to me than to get out your phone and get it on Snapchat,” Dionn said. “Our generation sucks.”

But it was more than just being able to escape social media for a handful of days that drew in the students.

Ben Hernandez, 17, said he’s always wanted to travel — a sentiment expressed by many of his classmates — so he could see life elsewhere.

“My dad’s family is from Cuba,” Ben said, describing them as old-fashioned. “Living here my whole life, you pretty much have everything at your hands. All you have to do is go out and do it.”

For Hunter Campbell, 17, this was all a chance to do something his mother never got a chance to do. She grew up in Hawley, land where “there’s like five potatoes for every person,” he said. His mother grew up in a family of nine and didn’t have much opportunity.

“She just wants her kids to see the world and do things she couldn’t,” Hunter said.

Breyton Muiru, 16, came to Greenfield from Kenya with his family. The chance to see somewhere else was something he was already familiar with, calling it a “mind blowing” experience. He continues to value travel now that he’s in this country.

“It changes the way you view the world,” Breyton said. “When you come back to where you were and you reflect on the whole thing, it’s really where you learn the lessons, which is the best part of travel.”

The students, along with Dodge, will be leaving Thursday. They will be meeting around midnight and flying out of Logan International Airport in Boston.

“I have a question,” Dionn said to his peers. “You know how we have to be here. ... Let’s order pizza or something so we can sit in the parking lot and take in America before we leave.”

“I don’t want to do that,” Maddy said. “I don’t want to take in America.”

A cross-table conversation then broke out among the students about what they want to do before they leave on their trip that has them feeling both excited and nervous.

Dodge explained to them that when she was a junior in high school, she began to grow up. Travel helped to put life into perspective and marginalize hallway gossip that, in reality, can be trivial.

“It is so important to travel and get out there and learn different cultures,” Dodge said. “When you get back, hopefully, you can verbalize that spark you saw and that’s the spark you should go throughout life with.”

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264




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