Volunteers Fair at St. Dominic High school this Saturday

POSTED: 09/7/11 1:20 PM

“Our students feel proud that they have taken part in a service”

GREAT BAY, St. Maarten – St. Dominic High school organizes St. Maarten’s first Volunteers Fair this Saturday at the school’s auditorium in an attempt to bring community-minded organizations and individuals together. St. Dominic is the only school on the island with an obligatory community-based learning component in its curriculum. Principal José Verschueren-Sommers and program coordinator Gianne Wilson-de Weever initiated the fair.
When students at the St. Dominic High School first heard of a plan asking them to do community service back in 2007, they balked. “Community service? We have done nothing wrong, they said,” Verschueren remembers. “They associated it with a court sentence.”
These days however, students take part in a wide variety of volunteer-projects. It is not called community service anymore, but community-based learning, or CBL. Students have to complete this program, otherwise they will not get their high school diploma.
“The students accept it now pretty well,” Gianne Wilson says. “We use the word volunteer and the expression community-based learning. Students understand now that they are going out there to learn something and that they are giving back to the community at the same time.”
Students take for instance part in cleanup actions at the Emilio Wilson park, and they have also volunteered with the Pride Foundation, the Nature Foundation, Simarc, the White and Yellow Cross, the library (the Reach Out and Read program), and at local vets. “They love walking dogs,” Wilson says with a smile. Students also take part in after school association whereby they help teachers, do their homework, or practice sports.
During the initiative’s first year in 2007, students took part on a voluntary basis, but since 2008 it is obligatory. “We discussed with the staff whether we could justify making it obligatory,” Verschueren recalls.
But the argument in favor was strong. Gianne Wilson, who teaches social sciences: “We thought, how is it possible to teach students about civil duties and then do nothing about it?”
“It created a bond with the community,” Verschueren adds. “Now our students feel proud that they have taken part in a service.”
The Emilio Wilson-teens who regularly take a Saturday morning to clean the park are originally St. Dominic High School students. “But it dawned on us that it does not have to be limited to students from our school,” Verschueren says. “The Ujima Foundation now also comes with kids to do some cleaning. And these kids get upset when they see how others destroy “their” park.”
The Volunteers Fair that is scheduled for Saturday is designed to bring volunteers from all corners of the island together – not only children, but preferably also their parents. St. Dominic works together with Judith Bell of the Ujima Foundation and former First Lady Angela Richards who represents four non-profit organizations.
Initially, Gianne Wilson thought about inviting the organization where her students could volunteer. But when the staff at St. Dominic discussed the initiative, a plan emerged to widen the scope. “Volunteer work is not only encouraged by the St. Dominic High school but also by other schools, churches, charity foundations, sport clubs and numerous social organizations,” Wilson wrote in the plan for the volunteer fair.
The idea is to have members of the invited organizations mingle, to network, and to examine possibilities for working together. The fair aims to give volunteer work a boost and to enhance active citizenship and solidarity among young people.
The fair begins on Saturday morning at ten o’clock.

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