Spring Break 2013 was quite the adventure for many Rollins students. Through Rollins Immersion trips, a service component is emphasized during the week of Spring Break out in the community in Florida or in the greater US. In recent years, Alternative Spring Breaks have become the norm here at Rollins College.
One particular trip this Spring Break was a standout from all the rest: ASB Abaco in the Bahamas. The group of students, accompanied by four facilitators, were able to take part in an international working experience at a special needs school in Abaco called Every Child Counts. ECC has grown from two students to over a hundred in its short time on the island. The admirable goal of ECC is “to provide an alternative education for children with learning, developmental or physical disabilities (regardless of financial, family or social restraints) to maximize each child’s ability to become a productive, successful and independent citizen.”
Working with additional-needs students was a challenge for the participating members, who prepared by attending many meetings prior to leaving for Abaco. One of the meetings included a trip to the Paragon School, an additional needs school right here in Central Florida. Group member Melissa Looby ’15 enjoyed the pre-trip experience saying, “Working with the Paragon school was an incredible experience. I know that teaching special needs is an incredibly difficult yet rewarding opportunity.”
Eventually the Immersion group arrived in Abaco and, after a relaxing day of soaking in the sights and the sun, they headed off to ECC. The first day at ECC was a challenge to many of the students, but many students were already able to see the mark that the experience would leave on them.
After a harried and tiring day, Sofia Macias ’14 was able to reflect on the experience positively – “I could see myself living here. It would be an incredible change from my life at Rollins and a long distance from my family and friends, but that all seems like small sacrifices when I realize that my presence could possibly make a difference between a child learning to live independently and a child being lost in the cracks.”
As the week progressed the participants became more and more attached to the school and the students around them. Most days could be summed up by facilitator, Shallini Allam ’13, who said “Well it was quite a long day… but I believe it was definitely impactful.” Amanda Wittebort ’13 had a special experience, because this was not her first time to Abaco or to ECC. She said “I worked at ECC my freshmen year winter and now I am here three years later for Spring Break where I knew the ECC would help me grow once again. But, once again, I underestimated the power of just one child and how much I can grow in a week. The ECC is a place that empowers these children and young adults to be the perfect, unique individuals they are and in return these children teach people like me a little bit more about myself and about the world.”
For Wittebort, the week was extraordinarily special because she was able to work one on one with a student who could not walk. “My student was Sabieon whom I had already fallen in love with. He is a fourteen-year-old boy that is confined to a wheel chair, but has the brightest spirit and the most shining smile.”
She returned to Abaco this time ready to graduate and equipped with a little more knowledge about working with the additional-needs children on the island. She explains, “I have worked closely with Dr. Carnahan, at Rollins, in the CDC and with children in general on how to read storybooks to children and how the reading and writing process works. I felt empowered today to use my past knowledge and experience and tailor it to fit Sabieon’s needs and wants.”
When it was time to leave Abaco, there wasn’t a dry eye in sight from any of the immersion trip participants. Participant Sneh Patel ’16 summed up everyone’s feelings, saying, “Then it was time to leave, which I am pretty sure most of us did not want to. Everyone was pretty exhausted and a huge thanks to the facilitators who ended the week with a great reflection.”