By Shauna Lampley
When you hear about a bunch of college students going on a Spring Break trip to New Orleans, you might be thinking relaxing on Bourbon Street or partying Mardi Gras style. But, that’s not why 12 young women from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College went on this venture to Louisiana.
Every year, SMWC offers an alternative spring break trip. This year, the trip took a different outlook on ways of servicing the community. The group was split up into different schools helping with early childhood education.
Malia Hoffman, campus minister, chaperoned the group of women along with Krista Steinmetz and Amanda Springstead.
“I chose this trip to give students a different experience from the ‘normal’ alternative break of building houses or doing physical work, and it appealed to a lot of education majors,” said Hoffman.
The group departed from the college at 6:30 a.m. and arrived late that evening. The next day, the group had the opportunity to explore the French Quarter and other various hot spots downtown New Orleans.
The next few days were working days. The students worked Monday through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The group was split up into four smaller groups. Each group was placed at a school working with early childhood education.
Volunteers contributed to early childhood education through Katrina’s Kids, an initiative operated by an international service program called Community Collaborations International.
The four schools were Total Community Action Head Start, Louise Head Start School, Leslie Head Start, and El Yo Yo Bilingual Head Start School.
The children at the Louise Head Start School were fed breakfast, lunch, and snack as a part of their plan. The children were dropped off at various times throughout the morning, depending when the parents had to go to work and then the children were picked up between the times of 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.
The facility had many paid and unpaid volunteers that came in throughout the week.
“I loved interacting with the children and teachers at the bilingual Head Start where I volunteered!” said Junior Cathleen Flynn. “Although the children weren’t born when Katrina happened, their families and communities have suffered greatly. It was so enriching getting the opportunity to offer a sliver of happiness or a learning moment to them.”
Head Start has income requirements and the families participating usually live below the poverty line or are of low-income. Head Start also does a house visit with the family before the child can be accepted into the school.
Stephanie Runyon, junior, worked with children between the ages of 8 months to 2 years old.
“I absolutely loved interacting with the group of youngsters at the Head Start,” said Runyon. “Although I spent the bulk of the time interacting with the students rather than talking with the teachers, I know that I probably made the biggest impact to the teachers by being an extra set of eyes in the classroom. Children especially that young get into everything and they need constant guidance.”
SMWC’s volunteers spent six days in total in New Orleans.
“When our van pulled up to pick our group up from the Head Start on the final day, one of the little girls who got rather attached to me cried when I handed her to one of the teachers,” said Runyon.
“That was the saddest moment of the trip for me, saying goodbye.”