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Fairfield Country Day Students Find Unique Educational Outlet In Panama

Students from Fairfield Country Day School helped local residents in a town in Panama for a week last summer. Photo Credit: Contributed
Boys from Fairfield Country Day School prepare to leave for the town in Panama. Photo Credit: Contributed
The Fairfield Country Day students helped local residents with sustainable farming projects. Photo Credit: Contributed
The boys ate lunch with the locals. Photo Credit: Contributed
A group picture of Fairfield Country Day School students during a trip to Panama last summer. Photo Credit: Contributed

FAIRFIELD, Conn. -- All students at Fairfield Country Day School tackle projects to enrich communities. A trip last year to Panama with 10 boys in grades 6-8 proved particularly enlightening for the young men though.

Spanish teacher Pen Vineyard partnered with Sustainable Harvest International to arrange a weeklong service trip last summer. Students worked for three days from dawn until mid afternoon, helping residents of one of that nation’s most rural areas develop sustainable farming practices. The boys stayed in a hotel about an hour from the town of Atre. After traveling to the town during the morning, the boys worked on the projects and ate lunch with the locals.

On the first day, students helped the residents install a rice paddy that was of much higher quality than what previously existed. Students also planted coffee trees, built an organic garden and worked with agricultural engineers from Sustainable Harvest International.

“A lot of their diet consists of simple grains,’’ Vineyard said. “Beans, carrots and tomatoes are considered luxury items. We helped them plant vegetables so that they can provide for themselves.”

On the final day, a family hosted a goodbye party for the Fairfield Country Day students.

Vineyard said the school’s instructional vision incorporates more than classroom based learning.

“There are certain traits we hope to instill and competencies we want them to walk away with,’’ Vineyard said. “One is empathy. Understanding that we come from a place of privilege is very important, and it’s important that they understand their social responsibility. We have a lot of here, and we’re very fortunate. We help the boys understand that.”

The Panama trip helped reinforce that message, while also providing the boys on the trip with important cultural lessons.

“There’s a cultural and environmental component to this trip,’’ Vineyard said. “It hits all of those areas.”

Noreen Franklin, the Community Service Coordinator at Fairfield Country Day School, organizes the school’s stewardship projects. All of the school’s faculty help marshal projects. Some projects students worked on included a weekly paper recycling collection and used book drive by fourth graders; establishing elderly pen pals and visiting residents at Bridgeport Manor for fifth graders; building winter bird feeders for pre-kindergarteners; tulip planting with ninth graders for kindergartners; and collecting coats and mentoring preschoolers by sixth graders.

Vineyard said it’s sometimes hard to gauge the impact projects have on the students right away, and the true reward might not come until later when the young men realize the value of community service.

“I think the proof that we’re reaching them is the impression that it made on these guys,’’ Vineyard said. “At the end, they completed a self-reflection. Everyone said that they wanted to go back. They’re still talking about it and thinking about it, which I think is anecdotal proof that it connects with them.”

Vineyard said the school plans to make another international trip in 2016. “This is a great age to do these trips because they’re so impressionable,’’ Vineyard said. “When you get them to buy in, two years down the road they’ll want to do more. You’re planting the seed.”

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