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MacArthur’s Peru Crew Serves As Ambassadors

Levittown students cross globe for service learning

While many people in Levittown, and across the United States observed Easter and celebrated spring break from school and work, 13 MacArthur High School seniors, including teacher chaperones Dana Fritch, Lynn Spinnato, and Chris Brown, embarked on a service learning/tourism opportunity in Peru. The group, known as the “Peru Crew” landed in Peru’s capital and largest city, Lima, on April 5, spending the day before taking a smaller flight east to Cusco, a popular tourist attraction, home of many of the Incan ruins.

The students agreed, some of the things that caught their attention immediately, aside from exiting a plane directly on the runway, and the change in altitude, were the rickshaws, bicycles, vehicle-right-of-ways, and free-roaming animals. Also a consensus, the view, landing in Lima and Cusco, surrounded by mountains and the landscape in general was awe-inspiring.

While in Cusco, the Peru Crew (Jacklyn Sullivan, Taylor Navarro, Katherine Salomone, Briana Lombardo, Lance Waithe, Kerrie Curnuck, Allison Mahon, Jennifer Handel, Colleen Bradley, Melanie Louie, Joseph Agostinacchio, Jenna Trizzino and Rebecca Hopkins) took a daylong tour of the Sacred Valley and visited the Incan ruins at Ollantaytambo. The group visited the markets at Pisac, ate traditional Peruvian food, listened and watched Peruvian music and dancers, and saw the Temple of the Sun.

On Saturday, April 7, and continuing through Easter Sunday, the team began their service project at Santa Rosa de Lima Primary School.

The Peru Crew students told Levittown Tribune how many in the community, including parents and students were at their own school, helping to repair and fix the structure. They gave up their holiday weekend to help with the labor project. They worked side-by-side with parents and school staff to help remove boulders and dirt from the school grounds, and began digging a ditch for future building of a perimeter wall.

They all laughed when asked if this is the hardest labor they have ever had to complete. Spinnato said once the students had the information about what they needed to accomplish at the school, they had to figure out how to move the boulders, come up with a plan to complete it, using potato sacks and a wheelbarrow.

Peru Crew member, Joseph Agostinacchio said he was happy to travel to Peru and learn about the people and their culture, and, in turn, do something good for their village’s school.

Many of the residents maintain their native language, the Quechua dialect, where Spanish was the median language between the MacArthur students and the Peruvian students. Some of the students knew some English words and were able to communicate through vocabulary, but they taught the MacArthur students more about their own language and blended native and Christian culture.

It made many of the MacArthur students humbled to see “how happy the Peruvian kids were with how little they had.”

Monday, the Peru Crew spent the day with the elementary and middle school students, assisting with the instruction, and even learning things for themselves. Some of the school topics of the day included the digestive system, art, multiplication and physical education. Later Monday, the MacArthur students visited an alpaca and llama farm, and they learned about the process of weaving and textile making.

On Tuesday, April 10 the Peru Crew toured more of Cusco, visiting Inca ruins at Sacsayhuamán, on the outskirts of Cusco. They took a walking tour of central Cusco including Plaza de Armas, Cusco Cathedral and the temple at Qoricancha.

The Peru Crew toured Machu Picchu on April 11 and took a short hike on the Inca Trail, in the Andes mountains, much of which is still of the original native trails. They flew back to Lima on April 12, visiting a gold museum of pre-Incan civilization artifacts, before finally flying home, arriving in Newark on April 13.

Fritch said, “MacArthur’s foreign language department really got the ball rolling, and jumpstarted this idea of going abroad.” She said the school has regularly chosen Europe as their destination, based on a foreign language tour. This year they decided to try something a little different, and selected Peru instead, for the tourism, as well as the service learning opportunity, a closer tie into the social studies programming at MacArthur High School.

“It’s different from the other trips, it is service learning, not just for tourism; we were trying to help out,” said Jacklyn Sullivan.

The school continued to use American Council for International Studies (ACIS), which specializes in leading high school trips for students traveling abroad. Once the school, administration and board of education approved the planning the students began signing up. In preparation the students learned about packing for a service project trip, culture differences, exchange rates, altitude adjustments, and some of the physical demands like the service project and the extensive hiking and walking they would be doing.

Some of the students belong to the school’s Amnesty International club, or have taken a humanitarian social studies course, each suitably geared toward the itinerary the students would experience while in Peru.

The students agreed most of the planning was even “an exciting build-up” to their actual travel. “We knew we were working in a school, but we really didn’t know the complete details until a few weeks before we left,” Fritch said.

In a presentation to the school administration and board of education at a recent public board meeting some of the students shared some of the afterthoughts about their experience:

Kerrie Curnuck: During our trip we enjoyed traditional Peruvian music, food and dancing. We toured several Inca ruins including Machu Picchu and marveled over their sophisticated engineering and building. Working at the Santa Rosa de Lima primary school allowed us to interact and really get to know the Peruvian people. Our service learning taught us the value of helping others and working together. Knowing that our efforts helped a school community in need was truly rewarding.

Colleen Bradley: The best part was going to the school. The first two days we did some physical work but we had a great time laughing and joking around. The last day we were able to spend the school day with the kids and that is something I will never forget. The way the children laughed and smiled and how excited they were to have us there really meant a lot to me. They all had our group sign our names in their notebooks like we were celebrities. I will always remember the principal of the school saying, we were angels sent to them. This trip was just incredible and words can’t even describe how amazing it was. This experience is something that I will always carry with me.

Taylor Navarro: I am thankful for the opportunity to go on the trip to Peru. I will never forget all the experiences and the people I met. Working in the school made me realize how much I enjoy helping others. In the fall I am majoring in Arts Management and hope to work in the film industry. This trip has increased my desire to work on documentaries. I hope to spread awareness of underprivileged countries and educate the public about different cultures. Overall the trip was amazing and I hope to continue traveling throughout my life.

Aside from typical spring break destinations, many of the students said this was their first time leaving the country, true tourism, to become fully immersed in another culture.

“The people there are so friendly, everyone is smiling,” Jenna Trizzino expressed, while the Peru Crew shared some of their favorite things about the whole trip, including: spending the day with the schoolchildren, seeing the ruins and Machu Picchu, mountain climbing, the freshness of the fruit served, gelato, “Pepe the Tour Guide” and Inca Cola.

“Peruvian people are awesome,” said Lance Waithe. “This was quite the service project; this was literally going out, into the world to make a difference.” He said this was most important because “there are a lot of people in the world who are not fond of Americans.”

Katherine Salomone shared, “I can go to Europe any day, but when am I going to get the chance again to go a school somewhere and really help out?” The Peru Crew all concurred; they would love to make a return trip to Peru.

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