March 12, 2013 | Myrna Anderson

Students will serve and learn at 13 sites around the nation.

Noah Kruis was raised in Rehoboth, N.M., a community that grew up around a mission school in the Navajo Territory. When Kruis, an associate director in Calvin’s service-learning center, heads home for spring break, March 18–22, he’ll be taking a lot of Calvin students with him. Rehoboth, located in the Four Corners region of the U.S., is one of  14 places around the country where Calvin is sending Spring Break Trips.

These annual trips are opportunities for students to lend their minds and muscle to an array of nonprofit organizations. “It gives students an opportunity to serve and learn instead of an opportunity for a more self-indulgent time,” Kruis said.

Learning and teaching

In Rehoboth, located in the Four Corners region of the U.S., students will learn about Navajo culture while encouraging college readiness. “We’re visiting different high schools and middle schools to talk about college going. Mostly we’re hoping that students get inspired by some of the students who are in college,” said Berniz Constanza, a recruitment coordinator with Calvin’s office of pre-college programs (PCP) who will accompany the Rehoboth trip. "One of the things we're doing is making sure they're aware of the resources they have."

Calvin students will teach the middle and high schoolers how to complete college and financial aid applications and how to prepare for the ACT and SAT tests. They will also encourage the students to form mentoring relationships to help them through the high school/college transition. At the close of the week, the Calvin group will hold an event modeled on PCP’s Striving Toward Educational Possibilities (STEP) conference—an event led by 2003 Calvin alum Kimberly Huyser.

The Rehoboth trip will also be a home-going for student coordinator Tonisha Begay, a Calvin sophomore psychology major. Like Kruis, Begay grew up in the Four Corners region and is a graduate of Rehoboth Christian School. She was introduced to Calvin through Entrada, PCP’s summer immersion program. “That’s kind of like my introduction to college life and college work,” she said. Begay is eager for her fellow Calvin students to experience her native culture, particularly some of the challenges—poverty, lack of education, lack of opportunity—faced by the Navajo people: “It’s more meaningful for them to actually see it and experience it,” she said.

Learning around the country

That philosophy is behind all of the Spring Break Trips, which Calvin has sponsored for more than three decades. This year, students will learn about housing and the arts in Baltimore, Maryland; urban community development in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Christian community development in Jackson, Mississippi; racial reconciliation and homelessness in Americus, Georgia; hurricane relief in Grand Isle and Houma, Louisiana; coal mining and culture in Kermit, West Virginia; art and culture in Three Rivers, Michigan; homelessness and racial reconciliation in Chicago, Illinois; and urban revitalization in St. Louis, Missouri. Students will work with mentally disabled adults in Mobile, Alabama and at-risk women in Knoxville, Tennessee and do hiking and trail maintenance in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Renewing the bond

Many of the trips represent Calvin’s longstanding partnerships with the various spring break nonprofits. Calvin sends groups year after year to these sites. Sometimes, the same students go multiple years. Sometimes, they continue going as alums. They learn about the communities and forge lasting friendships with the residents.

“One of the key tenets of service-learning is developing a reciprocal relationship—that it’s not just us, the wealthy college students going and developing a relationship with people who can’t give anything back,” Kruis said. He’s grateful to the donors who make Spring Break Trips possible for a wide range of Calvin's students.

And Kruis is eager to introduce students to Rehoboth, where he attended Rehoboth Christian School—the former mission school—and where Calvin has maintained a partnership for years. The twin to the college’s telescope, funded with a 2002 NSF grant, is located on the school campus, allowing Calvin astronomers to survey the skies around Rehoboth via a remote system. And this year, Calvin launched the Rehoboth Bridge Semester, allowing incoming Calvin students to have a gap year while  earning college credit.

“I’ve seen the relationship with that school and with the churches ebb and flow,” Kruis said, “and so I’m excited for this opportunity to reconnect out there.”

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