It is not uncommon to hear of BC students doing service and immersion trips over their breaks. While most people have heard of the larger programs, such as Appalachia Volunteers and Arrupe, there are also many smaller service trips heading out to all parts of the world. The twice-annual service trip to Natchez, Mississippi, through the Lynch School of Education is one of them. For the second year in a row, seniors Alyssa Rosenfeld and Robyn Antonucci are leading the Spring Break trip to Natchez.
The Natchez, Mississippi Service and Immersion trip began 14 years ago when Sister Demby at the Holy Family School reached out to Lynch School Dean John Cawthorne for monetary assistance. After the donations were made to the school, a BC student suggested physically going to Natchez to work with and help the teachers and students. Located in a racially and financially segregated town, the school is the oldest black Catholic elementary school in the country and is severely underfunded by the archdiocese. Recently, it was forced to cut grades 1-4, leaving spots for only students ages 2-5. Robyn and Alyssa will head down south with 19 other students and Dean Cawthorne to work with the Holy Family School in March.
“We take our cues from the director of the Holy Family School, the teachers and staff, and even the students; each year, our mission changes and it is based on what the teachers and students need,” the leaders agreed. “This spring, we also hope to collaborate with local businesses in Natchez in order to fundraise for the Holy Family School. We also strive to ‘immerse’ ourselves in the culture of Natchez, by doing preparatory work to learn about the history and racial relations in Natchez.”
Robyn and Alyssa are not only co-leaders of Natchez this year, but they are also co-presidents of the Lynch School of Education Senate, as well as roommates. In addition, they are both heavily involved on campus; Alyssa works with Arts Fest, Campus School and the dance team while Robyn serves as co-chair of the corporate scholarship committee for BC Relay for Life and is a First Year Professional Development Seminar Peer Advisor in Lynch. They are both also undergraduate research assistants.
This long list of achievements and co-curriculars doesn’t detract from their work with Natchez. When Dean Cawthorne approached them to lead after their first trip as sophomores, they both whole-heartedly agreed. The passion and dedication they share for the trip and cause is what keeps them going back year after year.
“We felt committed to the mission of the trip and to keeping the Holy Family School open,” says Alyssa. “We wanted to take on the responsibility of encouraging other BC students to get involved and continue to support the Holy Family School.”
“Within five short days, we both felt like we were a part of their family and were so grateful for how welcomed we were when we were there and we couldn’t wait for the next year,” Robyn added.
The experiences the girls have had on Natchez not only keep them returning on the trip, but they have also had a deep impact on what they plan to do after they graduate from BC this May. For Robyn, working with the teachers and students at Natchez has shown her what it will take to make the impact she desires as a teacher herself.
“While at the Holy Family School, I’ve learned more and more about the importance of education, the deep impact teachers have on their students, and the importance dedication, perseverance, and optimism serve in any school environment… I finally know that working as a teacher in an urban environment is the perfect career path for me. The love and commitment that is so apparent in the school is something that I hope to emulate in my own classroom.”
Alyssa echoed Robyn with similar sentiments about the effects of her experiences on her future plans.
“By being exposed to great financial inequality in Natchez, I have been made even more aware of the inequalities that exist locally. I know that the environments in which children grow up have the potential to “make or break” a students’ success. By seeing students at Holy Family School be so successful and learn so much even at such young ages, I am so inspired to know that despite negative circumstances and environments, students can succeed with dedicated teachers and staff. I hope that in the future I can help students as a school counselor to see beyond their environments and realize their potentials.”
To help fund their trip to Natchez, Alyssa and Robyn are planning raffles and bake sales, as well as “J. Tree Mardi Gras,” which will take place on February 17. You can purchase tickets in Campion 104 for $30 (all-inlclusive from 9pm-12am). If you would like to get involved with Natchez, it is open to ALL undergraduates! Keep your eye out for information sessions next semester for next year’s trips.