Every February for several years now, I have worked with students on ‘Alternative Spring Break’ projects. These programs take students to different communities (including our own) to explore different social issues through service. This year, the University of Calgary has 3 different programs, two in Calgary and this one that sees students travel to New Orleans, Louisiana. The other projects focus on poverty and homelessness with the Mustard Seed and ‘at-risk’ youth with the United Way of Calgary and the Faculty of Social Work.
While these programs are not for academic credit, they are incredible learning opportunities ‘beyond the classroom.’ Our programs come from different years of study and different academic programs. So far, the students have been reading about race & emergency response in New Orleans, the K-12 education system in Louisiana, the impact of Katrina & the Gulf Oil Spill and innovative community programs like Our School at Blair Grocery.
The group will spend most of Reading Week rebuilding homes with the St. Bernard Project in one of the worst-affected areas of Hurricane Katrina. After the storm, 27,000 homes were destroyed in this region leaving 67,000 people homeless. In addition to contributing to the rebuilding efforts, students will join a community meal, speak with someone from the Gulf Restoration Network, participate in a pot-luck and panel on local food systems and visit the alternative school and urban commercial farm described above. The group stays together in an old Wynn Dixie supermarket so internet access may be intermittent, but we’ll try our best to blog throughout the experience.