Senior Tisch Scholars complete capstone service experience in Jamaica

 Drawing on their academic and community experiences, senior Tisch Scholars worked over winter break to address community priorities in a rural fishing village.

During the ten day trip to Treasure Beach, Jamaica, the eleven seniors reconnected as teammates, realized how much they had learned over the past four years, made advances the community appreciated and reflected on their roles as active citizens, locally and globally. Working at four placement sites, the students took on issues of ecology, community development, health care and education.

“Treasure Beach is a small fishing village on the south side of Jamaica,” Lauren Augustine, A12, explained. “It’s a popular vacation spot for Jamaicans, but not as touristy as other parts of the island. It’s a community that’s really involved. Because of the local tourism there’s a lot of potential for development, but everyone is very thoughtful about how to have development that truly benefits the community.”

 In the trip’s second year, Tisch College deepened its partnership with the Breds Treasure Beach Foundation, a wholly volunteer-based charitable organization run by members of the community for the benefit of the community. In preparing for the trip, Breds played a critical role in identifying community needs and connecting Tisch College to placement sites.

“Breds has been an amazing partner in shaping this capstone experience for our seniors,” said Sara Allred, Tisch College Scholars program coordinator, who led the trip. “They’re deeply involved in Treasure Beach in a variety of ways.  Their guidance and support has been essential to learning about the community and to developing mutually-beneficial partnerships.”

Also joining the students were Mindy Nierenberg, Tisch College senior program manager, and recent graduates Jennica Allen, A11, and Matt Kincaid, A11, who participated in the inaugural trip last year. Andrew PetitdeMange, served as a natural and environmental resources consultant for the students. A ranger for the National Park Service, PetitdeMange helped the students better understand environmental sustainability issues and worked closely with the team partnering with Galleon Bay Fish Sanctuary.

In preparation for their international travel, seniors learned from Dr. Paula Aymer, Associate Professor of Sociology at Tufts, who received her undergraduate degree from the University of the West Indies in Jamaica and is an expert in Caribbean Studies.

“You can never prepare enough for service in a new community with a culture that is new to you,” said Sasha deBeausset, A12, a native of Guatemala who’s completed numerous service trips to that country with the student group BUILD. “You’ll always end up learning as you go, but it’s important to arrive as knowledgeable as possible about the language, history and culture so that you can better understand how you and your work will be perceived.”

Cassie Pastorelle, A12, agreed, adding that when it comes to international travel there’s a certain extent to which you need to just keep an open mind to learn and experience as much as possible while you’re there.

“Someone once told me that if you have no expectations when you travel, you’ll be endlessly amazed,” Pastorelle said. “I found that to be true – I was like a sponge, soaking up all the new knowledge. This was an amazing capstone experience, drawing on everything I’ve learned over the years in the Scholars program.”

 The multi-year Scholars program is designed to consciously build new skills and knowledge over the course of a students’ Tufts experience. As a capstone experience, the group trip to Treasure Beach is an opportunity for students to integrate everything they’ve learned – a goal the students resoundingly agreed it met.

“It was an amazing, holistic experience,” Jamie Love-Nichols, A12, said. “It helped me learn and connect with the community in Jamaica while connecting better with the Tisch Scholars community and learning more about myself.”

Chelsea Grayson, A12, added that the mutually-beneficial nature of the partnership is what made it truly rewarding.

“There was a sense of real collaboration and teamwork,” Grayson said. “We went to learn from them, work with them and contribute to the amazing work they are doing as best as we could.”

Student placements
Galleon Bay Fish Sanctuary
 In 2009, a nearly three mile stretch of shoreline was declared a Fish Sanctuary by the Jamaica Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. With visible “no fishing” buoys and a 24/7 patrol to stop would-be fishermen, the area provides a haven for fish and other sea life to breed and grow – increasing the fish stock after years of overfishing.

After working with and learning from the sanctuary wardens Trysion Walters and Micah Myers, Scholars Cristina Devia, A12, Chelsea Grayson, A12 and Cassandra Pastorelle, A12 began working on one of the sanctuary’s key goals – educating people about sea life and helping them understand why having a fish sanctuary is important and beneficial to the community.

“We developed an educational outreach activity for the Crawford and Sandy Banks Schools,” said Devia. “We created boxes that students could reach into and feel something from the sea such as a starfish or a turtle shell, then students could guess what it was they had touched.”

Devia, whose Scholar project this year has focused on bringing middle school students to Tufts as part of college access efforts, said the placement built upon her existing skills while exposing her to new things.

 “I’ve worked a lot with young kids in settings where I can see how children learn best and where I’ve learned to adapt my behavior to make our interactions both dynamic and productive,” Devia said.  “In Jamaica, I leaned so much about the environment as applied to the sanctuary and to community planning and responsibility.”

The group also produced a video highlighting the work of the sanctuary, at the request of sanctuary manager Sandy Tatham and Breds assistant Kimroy Stephenson. Grayson, whose current Scholar project helps Somerville High School youth tell their stories through photography, took the lead on developing the video.

“Having taken several media courses, it was exciting to know that a video was something the sanctuary needed,” said Grayson, an English major and Communication and Media Studies minor. “I felt like I really contributed something because there was so much enthusiasm about the video and that is exactly my area of expertise.” Back to top.

St. Elizabeth’s Parish Committee (PDC)
 The St. Elizabeth Parish Development Committee (PDC) was created in 1999 to serve the interests of communities through the input and participation of individuals, business and community-based organizations. Recently, PDC released a Sustainable Development Plan focusing Black River, the capital of St. Elizabeth Parish.

Kristen Johnson, A12, Yun Luo, E12, and Elliott McCarthy, A12, were asked by PDC Director Dramaine Jones and city planner Jody Ammoi to review the plan and suggest plan of action to move from report to implementation.

“We did a lot of research, spoke to a lot of people and created a set of recommendations that we presented to PDC as final report,” explained McCarthy.  “The three main projects we tackled were developing a color palate for new development, suggesting ways a park could be redesigned to promote a safe, community atmosphere, and recommending a strategy to relocate illegal market vendors into a designated market place.”

Throughout all three projects, the scholars focused on the needs and input of the community. In developing the color palate, for example, the team started by researching historical architecture in the city which was once a thriving colonial sugar port.  From their research, they developed three potential color palates which reflected Black River’s historic past. They then surveyed 150 locals and gathered input on which palate people preferred.

 “This project really helped me bring together what I’ve learned about urban planning and community engagement,” said Luo, a civil engineering major who’s completed Scholar projects locally on the green line extension and other community development efforts.  “This project helped me understand how important local knowledge is to urban development and challenged me to implement quality engineering projects without all the resources it’s assumed in class you will have. Finally, it made me realize how important having tangible impacts and working with communities are to me personally.”

Johnson, an international relations major who is currently conducting community-based research on energy alternatives in Zimbabwe as her Scholar project, agreed that the placement site, new to the program this year, was an ideal match for her skills and interests.

“My project could not have been better suited for me,” said Johnson. “We worked with a wonderful group of people whose appreciation for our ideas and input encouraged the work we did and made our time and our exchange more meaningful. Since I’ll be specializing in international urban planning in graduate school, this project was personally very valuable while leaving PDC with something tangible they were interested in using in their future work.”  Back to top.

Junction Health Clinic
 Working in the Junction Health Clinic, Lauren Augustine, A12, Ryan Clapp, A12, Sasha deBeausset, A12, and Melanie Papadopoulos, A12, learned firsthand about the healthcare system of Junction, a small town near Treasure Beach. Under the guidance of Nurse Bent and Nurse Moore, the Scholars spent time in the clinic and on community health outreach visits.

“We had the opportunity to meet many amazing people and to learn about all the different work the clinic does,” said Papadopoulos, an international relations major.  “We learned about the HIV/AIDS program, observed dressings given to patients with non-emergency wounds, shadowed nurses giving pre- and post-natal checkups and got to speak with patients waiting for their appointments at the pharmacy.”

Augustine, an international relations major whose scholar project is working with LIFT Somerville to expand healthcare-related resources, said the experience helped her see a new side of healthcare.

“Despite my interest in health, this was my first experience in a clinic,” Augustine said. “It made me realize my true interest in community health and that I really enjoy the personal connection and the impact one can have when reaching out into the community.  I constantly found myself analyzing the health problems in the Junction community from a public health perspective. Additionally, working with professionals in another country just adds to the perspectives I’ve gained through my projects at Tisch College.”

Clapp, a sociology major whose Scholar project focuses on education, was also impressed by his first experience in a clinic.

 “They had two dentists, but only one dental chair; there was so much need, but so few resources,” Clapp said. “But the clinic offered an astonishing array of services for a small building with limited resources. It really challenged my perceptions to see the range of high quality services offered – a nurse who makes home visits to patients who can’t make it to the clinic, a meat inspector and so much more.”

The group also had ideas for how to improve the partnership as the program continues in the future.

“Because of the highly technical work of the clinic, we mostly observed the work being done there – jumping in to assemble gauze for wound dressing and preparing a short presentation on child nutrition of the mothers in the waiting room,” deBeausset said.  “As this partnership grows into its third year, we’re working on developing a report to help next year’s Scholars prepare for this placement and to learn from our experience there.” Back to top.

Sandy Bank Schools and EduSports

 A biology major and avid soccer player, Jamie Love-Nichols, A12, split her time working at Sandy Bank Basic and Primary Schools and at EduSports, a non-profit aimed at providing educational opportunities through sports. She was joined by Jennica Allen, A11, and Matthew Kincaid, A11, who had previously worked at the Sandy Bank schools as seniors on the first year of the trip.

“I managed to connect so many things back to my thesis, even though there wasn’t an obvious tangible connection to my academic work in biology,” Love-Nichols commented. “It was really exciting to see how interdisciplinary my work is and be able to apply it so broadly.”

During the day, Love-Nichols, Allen and Kincaid played many roles at the Sandy Bank schools.  Afterwards, they would travel to other area schools to assist with EduSports programming. Love-Nichols also worked with EduSports coaches Victor Ebanks and Allan Roper to assist an area high school with newly developed girls’ soccer.

 At Sandy Bank Basic School, serving youth ages 3-5, and at the Primary School, which works with youth 6-12. Love-Nichols, Allen and Kincaid tutored children with special needs, helped around the classroom and supervised recess to give the teachers a much needed break.

At the request of Ms. Zane Ebanks, principal of the Primary School, the Scholars provided teachers a professional development workshop on how to use PowerPoint on a set of computers that had recently been donated to the Primary School. Back to top.

Originally published March 2012