Area Teacher Embraces Mission To Dominican Republic
By Space Coast Daily // March 8, 2013
Volunteer Service Will Help Train Instructors
BREVARD COUNTY • ROCKLEDGE, FLORIDA – When Suzanne Strain turned 40 this year, she took a look at her life and said, “I can do more.”
So the first-grade teacher at St. Mary’s Catholic School decided to go on a mission to a remote village in the Dominican Republic to train teachers on everything from math and science lessons, to student projects that will result in water filters for their homes.
She leaves March 16.
Think Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love.
Strain, who had never been out of the country before, is no stranger to community service. Each year, she leads St. Mary’s students in a 40-day social justice project.
The project coincides with Lent, the Catholic period when believers prepare for Easter through prayer, penance, repentance and sacrifice.
The program involves the entire school and includes classroom lessons, volunteer service and reflection.
One year, the focus was the importance of treating children with special needs with respect. Another year, it was diabetes and facing difficult challenges. With her heart pulling her to do more, she linked this year’s Lenten project with the need of those in poverty in the Dominican Republic.
Cadre of volunteers
Why the Dominican Republic?
In 2003, the Orlando Dioceses established a relationship with a community in La Loma, a remote and mountainous region in the Dominican Republic.
St. Mary’s Church Pastor Rev. Nicholas King was instrumental in that partnership, which also sent volunteers to the area.
In 2009, the Dioceses teamed up with Valencia Community College in Orlando and delivered another cadre of volunteers.
In 2013, the Dioceses put out a call for volunteers for another trip. Strain decided she put her skills as a teacher to work by offering teachers on the island techniques for improving their lesson plans and instruction.
“We take so much for granted in this country,” Strain said. “At St. Mary’s, we teach our children to think beyond the ‘me’ mentality. I thought, I want to go somewhere where people have nothing, but appreciate everything God has given them. I want to help them, too. It was a perfect fit.”
So she developed 20 lesson plans for all St. Mary’s students. Students in K-8 at St. Mary’s are being exposed to a little about life in the Dominican Republic and enhancing their science, art, reading, writing and math knowledge through the projects Strain developed.
For example, students have already made basic water filtration systems in class to get a hands-on-science lesson that address water quality and the scarcity of it in some parts of the world. Other projects include writing a critical thinking essay about the differences between need and desire.
Another is linked to teaching students about the U.S. healthcare system and how it works. Another lesson teaches the children the history of merengue and includes dancing.
School Principal Sandra Basinger is supportive. The school already collects donations and has activities that benefit community service projects. She pledged to have some of the proceeds go toward Strain’s mission trip.
“We are happy to support someone who walks the walk,” Basinger said. “It’s one thing to be here teaching children everyday to do the right thing, to look beyond themselves. But to actually lead by example, that’s more challenging. We have to support that.”
Strain and five other volunteers including a parent from St. Mary’s school and a former teacher will be on the Caribbean island March 16 to 23.
The team will spend five days with 30 local teachers, many of whom will walk for miles on unpaved roads to listen to the volunteers offer tips for making math, science and reading more engaging for their students.
“We take so much for granted in this country. At St. Mary’s, we teach our children to think beyond the ‘me’ mentality. I thought, I want to go somewhere where people have nothing, but appreciate everything God has given them. I want to help them, too. It was a perfect fit.” Suzanne Strain, St. Mary’s Catholic School teacher
St. Mary’s seventh-grade teacher and Spanish instructor Sean Paul Pichardo translated another set of lesson plans Strain developed for the teachers in La Loma into Spanish.
That way the teachers can use them without the hassle of trying to decipher the English language.
Throughout the past few weeks, the project has turned into a school-wide mission. Students, teachers and parents are donating everything from pencils and sharpeners, to index cards and bookmarks, so Strain can give the teachers items they can share with the children.
The only worry for Strain is leaving behind her children. She knows her students will be fine, but she’s a little nervous about her own three young children, ages 2, 8 and 12.
“Not sure how my husband is going to manage it all,” Strain said with a laugh. “But he’s very supportive. He’s all for it, even if it means a little disruption in our lives.”