When local teacher Anne Vallerga was a high school student in India, residents of a nearby slum would visit the school each week to use the running water, receive hygiene supplies, and play with crafts and games.
Vallerga worked the shampoo station and helped give women head lice treatments. It was the first time in her life, Vallerga said, that she appreciated the “luxury” of having reliable access to food, water and shelter.
This June, Vallerga, a teacher at New Technology High School, will help lead a group of 17 students on a service learning trip to an impoverished community in Nicaragua. Vallerga said she feels “privileged” to work with a group of students who want to help the less fortunate — as opposed to visiting only as tourists.
“I think it’s going to be an intense, emotional experience,” Vallerga said.
The group from New Tech has partnered with Outreach 360, a volunteer-based organization that works in disadvantaged communities throughout the world.
The students will spend the entire trip volunteering in a school that serves disadvantaged and orphaned children. The school in Nicaragua is located in an impoverished, coffee-growing community in the mountains.
During the weeklong trip, the high school students will teach the younger children English and help with school activities. Three teachers (including Vallerga), two parents and district Superintendent Patrick Sweeney will accompany them. The group will stay in separate male and female dorms on the school’s campus.
While she is looking forward to the trip, student Emma Kearney said she expects many of the children at the school to have emotional or social difficulties.
“It could be very tragic,” Kearney said.
Kearney said teaching English to the students is what she’ll probably enjoy most. After graduating from high school, Kearney plans to teach English in France.
Sweeney has worked as a bilingual educator since 1980. He is fluent in Spanish and spent four years as the superintendent of an American school in Mexico.
Sweeney said traveling abroad and doing volunteer work helps students appreciate what they have in the U.S., and also teaches them to have empathy for other people.
“Growing up in California, we may not realize how other people live,” Sweeney said. “It’s great to learn other perspectives.”
Each student has to pay $1,300 to $1,400. Students are doing fundraising through the Outreach 360 site and will have booths set up at a couple of upcoming community events.
Vallerga said if the trip goes well, she hopes to make it an annual event for New Tech High.