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Shippensburg University education students work with special needs children in Jamaica

​Education is power, said Sarah Anderson ’16, and she’s determined to improve that power in places that lack educational resources. “I truly believe that access to adequate education can change the course of a child’s life.”

Anderson was one of a dozen special education dual certification students at Shippensburg University who spent the first week of summer break completing service learning in Jamaica. Through the nonprofit Amizade, Dr. Chris Schwilk and his special education dual certificate program students worked with students and teachers in three special education schools and one general education school that integrated students with disabilities into the general classroom setting. Anderson initially expressed interest in organizing an international trip and spearheaded the project.

“Reaching out to a community that lacks the resources that we have is a very worthwhile cause,” she said. “We are trained to teach students from diverse cultures, and we don’t always get the opportunity to not only experience teaching students from different cultures, but also learning about and practicing respecting other cultures.”

The disparity between Jamaica’s resort areas and local communities was shocking, Schwilk said. Schools are trying to be more inclusive of students with special needs, but are severely under resourced. “There are such a range of disabilities at these schools,” he said. “Our students took information from their courses and put it to work immediately in a community that had never heard of it.”

Despite large class sizes and few resources, Anderson said the teachers hungered for more knowledge. Ship students taught them some American Sign Language, introduced new teaching methods, and developed flashcards for nonverbal students. Lindsay Roberts ’16 had the opportunity to teach one student the color orange using flashcards.

“This experience was exceptionally rewarding for me because, not only did this child learn the color orange, but the teacher sat next to me and watched the entire time as I modeled for her how to teach this student who was nonverbal,” she said. “That was so special for me.”

Ship students were aware that conditions in the schools were rough. Paper is scarce, existing resources are outdated and overused, and few art supplies are available. Prior to their departure, Roberts organized a school supply drive, filling six suitcases with donated supplies. “I was extremely overwhelmed with how many people were willing to give. It warmed my heart.”

The excursion left such an impact on the group that they were moved to do more. Schools in Jamaica lack air conditioning or fans, so Ship students chipped in and purchased four fans for the early childhood school that they visited. They are continuing their fundraising efforts and hope to make a return trip.

“I will forever remember how lucky I am to be teaching in the conditions that I am, because the teachers in Jamaica work hard and get the job done without half the resources I have,” Roberts said.

Anderson said she learned to be grateful and creative with the resources at her disposal. “We learned and practiced patience and taking things as they come,” she said. “I feel as if this experience has shaped how I interact with students and colleagues from cultures beyond which I was raised.”