Elm Tree Press: Winterim at LA

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by Matt Noel ’19

LA offers each student an immense amount of opportunity. Personally, I have experienced this through Winterim.

Winterim is a two-week program at the end of the winter term that focuses on learning outside of the classroom – that could mean learning how to play chess with a professional chess player, watching musicals and writing reviews on them, or, in my case, traveling around the world doing service projects.

During my sophomore year at LA, I was lucky enough to travel to the Dominican Republic for Winterim on a trip called “Coffee, Kids, and Community.”

For ten days, fifteen other students, two teachers and I split our time between working at a local coffee farm in the mountains of the Dominican Republic and teaching math and English to kindergarteners in the area. When I first found out that I would be going to the Dominican Republic for Winterim, I was beyond excited.

However, I’m not going to lie, I was also really nervous. I wasn’t close friends with anyone on my trip, I was one of the only underclassmen on the trip, the only time I had left the US before was to go to Canada for a night with my family, and I wasn’t allowed to bring my phone on the trip. All traveling Winterims collect the students’ phones at the beginning of the journey so there will be no distractions.

When I got to the Dominican Republic, I forgot about all of my worries.

Most of the people on my trip were in the same situation as me and didn’t have any close friends on the trip, so we all bonded really quickly. The guides and teachers were so friendly and energetic and made all of us feel really comfortable and ready to start working.

For the first five days of the ten-day program, we worked at the coffee farm. I had initially imagined the farm we would be working at as one that you would find in the US: a flat field that extends for miles, tractors, machinery, etc., so I was surprised to see the farm consist of rolling hills splotched with coffee plants and hand-built buildings.

The staff on the farm used no heavy machinery or tractors and relied solely on their hands and the help of others, so they were pleased to have our support. We started right away helping them clear what seemed like miles of paths through the woods, building bridges over streams and small rivers, and creating a pulley system to carry materials from the bottom of the hill to the top. We did all of this by hand learning little tricks from the farm staff throughout the days we spent there.

Not only was I awed by how welcoming the farm staff was and how willing they were to teach us, but also by how impactful the help of sixteen people was. I think everyone in my group, including the guides and the teachers, realized how a small amount of assistance can go a long way.

The final half of the trip was dedicated to working at a local school building if you could even call it that – the “building” was a two-room edifice with holes in the walls, only enough desks for half the students, and textbooks that were falling apart. Coming from a private school in Groton, Massachusetts, I was shocked to see the conditions the students in the Dominican Republic were expected to learn in…

It is one thing to hear about life in developing countries on the news and from other people, but it’s another thing to actually see it and experience it firsthand. Despite the conditions of the school, the kids were all so positive, happy, and eager to learn. The students and the teachers alike seemed extremely grateful that we were there to help them, and I felt the same in return.

Not every high school student has the opportunity to travel to a foreign country for a service trip, let alone be in a place where every student and teacher strives to do just that; so, the uniqueness of the Winterim program to LA has made it a considerable part of the culture of the school, and I can confidently say that Winterim has had a positive impact on almost every student that has participated in it.

As a senior, I still am amazed by the opportunity each student at LA has largely in part to Winterim – it indeed is something special to have a school that cares so much about the betterment of the world and the encouragement of the student body to be good people.