Neag Students Take a Refreshing and Eye-Opening Break to Jamaica

Alexandria Cipolla (top) and Shelby Flynn and another student enjoy drinking coconuts with students from Cove Elementary School in Jamaica.
Alexandria Cipolla (top) and Shelby Flynn and another student enjoy drinking coconuts with students from Cove Elementary School in Jamaica.

This past spring break the UConn Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life took their first alternative spring break to help out two different schools in Jamaica.

Alexandria Cipolla and Shelby Flynn were among two of the ten UConn students involved in the trip, and both are Neag School of Education students.

Flynn, a special education major, found the experience to be very eye opening.

“Speaking to teachers and principals and the students was inspiring,” said Flynn. “Two things that really stood out to me were the mottos of the schools. ‘Hard work brings true joy’ and ‘perseverance brings success.’ The schools promoted literacy and really emphasized the power of reading.”

The first half of the week was spent in Negril, at an elementary school called Cove School. At Cove School, they helped scrape rust off the gates at the school, sand them down and then repaint them. They also painted the entire outside of the school. The second half of the week was spent in Treasure Beach where the students helped out with a mural painting at another elementary school and an infant school (what Jamaica considers a school for pre-school and kindergarten).

Cipolla found that the alternative break was a good educational experience, both as a Neag student and as a member of a sorority.

“It was an amazing educational experience,” said Cipolla, an elementary education major. “I learned a great deal about global education, and was able to see how the education system works in a completely different area.”

The two students also found that the value of education in other countries is viewed and treated differently than in the United States.

“Education is not a ‘right’ in Jamaica and is funded by the families,” said Cipolla. “It is also a very different system, and was very interesting to observe.”

For Flynn, the week in Jamaica was a refreshing experience to see how education was viewed in Jamaica.

“Students are encouraged to be hard workers,” said Flynn. “When they enter the sixth grade at some of the schools, they have to take a test to attend high school. Most of the students expressed an interest for math or language.”

Both students found that their group’s work for the week not only gave the schools an extra pair of hands, support and resources but also gave the students of those schools new college role models that they could look up to.

“The PTA at Cove School was so grateful for our time. Every day we were at the site, he brought all of us a coconut as a sign of his appreciation for our work,’ said Flynn. “He had two children who attended Cove School and he was thankful for us being there. We were able to first drink the juice from the coconut and then [he] taught the correct way to eat a fresh coconut.”

As a part of Neag, Flynn and Cipolla found the experience even more rewarding and encourage more Neag students to consider attending alternative breaks.

“Being able to serve a community and a cause that we are already passionate about made the trip even more rewarding,” said Flynn. “I would definitely recommend any type of service trip to other Neag students.”

While most of the students feel as though they accomplished what they had originally set out to do, they realize that there’s always more work to be done and would gladly go back and continue lending a hand.

“The work is never finished,” said Cipolla. “If given the opportunity, I would go back to serve in Jamaica in a heart beat.”