Two groups of New Albany students recently returned from travels abroad with local teachers and community members.

Two groups of New Albany students recently returned from travels abroad with local teachers and community members.

Last month, 25 New Albany High School students and four teachers completed a service project for the Mariposa Foundation in the Dominican Republic and 11 students, seven parents and two teachers traveled to China.

Both trips were a first for district students and both were self-funded.

Some of the participating students and teachers recounted their trips to the New Albany-Plain Local school board June 24.

Service project in the Dominican

High school humanities and English teacher Christine Chamberlain said the Dominican Republic trip was inspired by the Hand in Hand with Haiti initiative last school year, in which students in all grades and parent volunteers raised $25,000 to help an orphanage in Haiti establish a tilapia-fishing operation.

Chamberlain said some high school students wanted to help other countries and district officials chose the Dominican Republic for the service trip, which was June 2-9.

"We've never done anything like this before," Chamberlain said. "It was an incredibly authentic experience and I was amazed at how receptive our students were to the experience."

She said the Mariposa Foundation educates girls and prevents them from becoming part of the country's sex trade.

Chamberlain said the students were "out of their comfort zone" and she was amazed to see how "unselfish and giving they became."

Sophomore Jordan Gundlach said the students built a wall for the Mariposa Foundation.

Sophomore Matt Bonadies said the wall would protect the foundation from the neighboring property, which Chamberlain said contained litter and had a lot of public traffic.

Students also helped plant a garden at the foundation.

Sophomore Griffin Margulis said he was surprised at the "stark" differences between the Dominican Republic and the United States and couldn't believe that vehicle traffic was able to function without signal lights and speed-limit signs.

Senior Alison Schaffir said she was humbled the day the students toured local homes, tiny houses in the village that sleep seven to eight people.

Seniors Maddie Rabe and Elena Alfonso returned with a mission to start a service club in the 2013-14 school year that will educate others about the plight of girls around the world.

Rabe said while at the Mariposa Foundation, the students learned how difficult it can be to keep girls "out of harm's way" and how single mothers in the Dominican Republic sometimes turn to prostitution to feed their children.

Rabe said she and Alfonso will work with humanities and history teacher Rachael Bailey, who also went on the trip, to form the club, which will be affiliated with Girls Learn International.

Girls Learn International was started by the Feminist Majority Foundation and it educates local clubs or chapters on human rights and factors that can prevent girls from having access to education.

Rabe said the club will be part service and part educational and she hopes they can support another service-learning trip.

"If there is another service trip, I'd love to go again," she said.

Educational journey to China

Seventh-grade special education teacher Ryan Hoobler and seventh-grade math teacher Ginny Nicholson traveled with nine New Albany Middle School students, one New Albany High School student and a Grandview Heights High School student to Beijing, Nanjing and Shanghai, China, June 8-17.

Hoobler said New Albany Middle School began offering classes in Mandarin Chinese last school year and guides in China were surprised how much the students had learned in one year.

"The first tour guide we had was very interactive with them and encouraged them to use the Mandarin they had learned," Hoobler said. "The guide was very impressed with what they were able to respond with, after only one year."

Hoobler said the students visited the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, and the students were surprised by the size of the population.

"I think it shocked some people at how many people there were on the street," Hoobler said.

Beijing, for example, is a city of 24 million, he said.

None of the students who went to China were able to attend the board meeting June 24.

School board President Laura Kohler said after the presentations that the district must start calling the trips international courses, because they are not just field trips.

School board member Mark Ryan, who traveled to South Africa June 2-12 with the district's STEM program expedition, thanked the teachers and staff for taking the time to coordinate the trips and act as chaperones.

"This can only happen because of the staff's passion," said Superintendent April Domine.