Julie Fratarcangeli is The Director of International Program Development at ACIS. She works with public and private schools all over the Northeastern US to develop travel programs to fit their needs. As part of that effort, she’s partnered with a set of educators from across the country to develop a new set of educational travel programs geared towards building leadership skills in young people.
She wrote the following article after coming back from a familiarization trip to the Dominican Republic to experience parts of the new itineraries first-hand with a group of educators:
The ACIS Leadership Projects were created with the idea that while all travel changes lives, these new programs can reach an even deeper level. Through meetings with national and community leaders, global sharing experiences with local youth groups and cultural enrichment through a variety of engaging activities, the goal of the leadership projects is to cultivate and fine tune the leadership skills that are key to your students’ development as globally-minded future leaders.
ACIS launched this new set of programs in 2017 with tours to Italy and the Dominican Republic and the hope that we will continue to expand our destination options in the future. In January, we ran our first familiarization program to the Dominican with a group of teachers who are all leading leadership projects in 2017.
The January trip showed us that the work we’ve done thus far is right in line with the mission of the project. While we only experienced a sample of our full student touring itineraries, the group leaders and I found each encounter to be meaningful and impactful.
To start, we spent time at the DREAM Project. A 501c non-profit, DREAM was established to assist with at-risk youth ranging in age from 3 to 24, starting with a Montessori preschool and ending with job training for those looking to enter the workforce. DREAM works in a Cabarete neighborhood on the DR’s northern coast as an extension of their underfunded state-provided school system. The visit started with an introduction by executive director Catherine DeLaura. The ACIS teachers then interacted with their young women’s group, UNICA, which provides education on topics such as reproductive health and healthy relationships. The girls in UNICA demonstrated an amazing appreciation for the program as well as strong community leadership skills. We also met with a group of younger students who belong to their young leaders program, and together participated in a role play activity that was a fun way to realize the tremendous growth that these students have seen during their time at DREAM. The overall experience was inspirational and insightful and left us all excited to return.
At our next visit, we met a local hero within his community, Papo Soñé. As one of the only black belt holders in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in the country, he teaches the youth of the community the key leadership skills of discipline, self-respect, and responsibility. This visit allowed us to watch Papo in action, learn a bit about Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and help us understand his unique leadership style. Our students will enjoy “hitting the mat” with his students and learning what Papo has been able to provide in the community.
Next, we had the pleasure of meeting Domingo Abreu, a nationally recognized environmentalist who has done tremendous work to preserve the Pomier Caves Anthropological site. In addition, his work within the community surrounding the caves provides opportunities for the local youth. His goal is to help them understand the importance of the caves both historically and with a vision to future economic opportunities. Our students will work closely with the community, learning about the caves and hearing from Mr. Abreu as well as these young leaders.
The final experience of the weekend was with leaders from MUDHA (Movimiento de Mujeres Dominico-Haitianas) and the Anaïsa School. Working with members of the Batey Palmarego community, this organization and school provide assistance and hope to a deeply impoverished community. Due to changes in the 2010 DR Constitution, many Dominicans of Haitian descent have lost their citizenship status. The DR has approximately 400 Batey (communities of stateless Haitians and Dominicans) and MUDHA is currently working with approximately 20 of them. It was both eye-opening and inspirational to see the extreme poverty in this community, interact with some if its young female leaders, and be able to hear from Jenny Morón, MUDHA’s coordinator of Legal and Human Rights, as well as Cristina Luisa, MUDHA’s President.
The overall trip was incredibly impactful, and the group gained a unique understanding of the issues of statelessness and economic despair facing Dominicans of Haitian decent. The intricacy and depth of the problem was made most evident during our visit of the Batey Palmarego. The young women representing the Anaïsa School were extremely impressive and will be amazing role models for the ACIS students during our student groups’ global sharing exchanges with them.
This leadership familiarization trip to the Dominican Republic was intended to help us assess and make further improvements to the leadership projects we have created for students. From the experience, the teachers and I have come to believe even more strongly in the importance of global competency and the need for these types of programs. The teachers that experienced this trip have also gained a greater understanding of the scope of the project and will be able to utilize their first-hand knowledge to best equip their students for the incredible impact potential of their upcoming experience.
Learn more about ACIS’ Leadership Projects at www.acis.com/leadership
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