Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Carrboro High Hosts Group from Dominican Republic

An international-CHCCS connection that’s now in its fifth year celebrated a new chapter in December as 15 students and staff from the Julian Javier High School in the Dominican Republic spent a week with families and teachers from Carrboro High. Each day was packed with activity, food and conversations in Spanish and English. Alejandra Castillo, a junior at Carrboro High said, “Not only did the students have fun, but the parents and staff also danced, sang, and laughed along with everyone. We had fun the whole time they were here, taking pictures and sharing stories. It was an amazing experience I’ll never forget.”

During the summer of 2013, several Carrboro High students traveled to the Dominican Republic with Transcending Borders of the Global Leadership Institute. One of those students was Leah Simon, who now attends UNC, and the trip ignited her passion and commitment to the culture and the people they met. When she and the other students returned to school, they began planning various projects and fundraising efforts, under the guidance - and with tireless energy - from teacher John Hite. Dr. LaVerne Mattocks, principal at the time, offered her enthusiastic support as the core group built bridges with the community of Tenares in Hermanas Mirabal Province.

So far, the collaboration-exchange between Carrboro High and Hermanas Mirabel has yielded a mural project (and two vivid murals at the school), as well as a major drive for funds and boots-on-the-ground support of a water project at La Cumbre, a small village that had no access to clean water. In recent years, Carrboro High students and their families have raised tens of thousands of dollars for La Cumbre and Tenares, and each year, new students join this ongoing endeavor. Current principal Beverly Rudolph has picked up where Dr. Mattocks left off, providing assistance to ensure that each undertaking runs as smoothly as possible. John Hite led nine Carrboro students on the most recent trip to the Dominican Republic during the summer of 2016.   

The December exchange that brought 15 Dominicans here had been in the works for some time, but plans were scrambled by the succession of powerful hurricanes in 2017. Throughout the months of delays and complications, Hite stayed focused on making sure the exchange could take place. “There were so many moving parts, I had to make sure it all fit together.” 

Teachers Angela McChesney and Nathalie Gaut also pitched in with a group of students. The hundreds of collective hours paid off in an enriching and entertaining experience for both the Dominicans and the Carrboro High community alike.    

Students and their parents hosted visitors, as did McChesney and Gaut. The itinerary was packed between the group’s arrival and departure from RDU: a UNC basketball game, bowling, trips to the Ackland Museum, the Bennett Place and the Planetarium. Karl Naomi, a Carrboro High senior, said, “They loved Chapel Hill and saw a lot of different things than what they have in their country. Just something as simple as leaves falling off the trees and even a little snow was really cool for them to see.”     

The Dominican group, with their student hosts, also toured the campuses of UNC and Duke, courtesy of former Jaguars who’d been involved in earlier exchanges and fundraising: Leah Abrams at Duke, and Leah Simon and Kristen Lee at UNC.      

But the Dominicans also spent plenty of time at Carrboro High during the week, going to classes and other in-school events, as well as attending both a breakfast and lunch hosted by Youth Leadership Institute students. Senior Stephanie Lopez of YLI said, “I learned new things from their culture and what the education system is like in the Dominican Republic and it was a great experience!” On the final day of the exchange, most of the Carrboro High student body gathered during lunch in the Cafe Commons to share songs and dances from both cultures. The Dominican students performed a traditional dance, in full regalia, and a number of Carrboro High students offered their talents as well.           

The parents of the visiting students expressed their gratitude in emails to Hite after their children had returned home. One father wrote, “More than grateful for that great experience my son has lived. You who welcomed them and treated them so well from North Carolina-- thanks to you, students, teachers, professors and high school director. Thank you very much, it was unforgettable for our children.”

“I am from Peru, but I grew up here and so I felt like I wasn't really connected to my Latino side,” said Alejandra Castillo. “I feel like being with them has awakened (that). Having them here not only brought me closer to people from a different culture, but also to other people from the Carrboro High School community. I can hardly wait for future exchanges between Carrboro High School and Liceo Julian Javier!”