Education Students and Faculty Serve Alongside former Manhattan College Brothers in Jamaica

Manhattan group spends winter break volunteering at Lasallian high school with Brothers Augustine Nicoletti and James Wallace.

Last spring, Brothers Augustine “Gus” Nicoletti, FSC, Ed.D., and James Wallace, FSC, Ed.D., announced they would be leaving Manhattan College for two years to serve at a high school in Jamaica. Upon hearing this news, William Merriman, Ph.D., dean of the School of Education and Health, arranged a service learning opportunity for education faculty and students to visit them in Jamaica. 

Since arriving in Jamaica in September 2013, Br. Nicoletti, who is the new principal of St. Vincent Strambi High School, and Br. Wallace, an administrator, have worked to integrate a Lasallian foundation in the Catholic high school. 

Fast forward to January 2014 when two Manhattan College faculty members and four education students embarked on a life-changing trip assisting the Brothers in Bull Savannah, Jamaica.

“Jamaica is considered to be a third world country due to the severe poverty, and the students at St. Vincent overcome tremendous challenges just to get to school,” explained Shawn Ladda, Ed.D., professor of kinesiology. “Some have a two hour commute that involves taking multiple taxis and switching vehicles at different towns to get to school.”

Ladda, along with Peter McCarthy, Ed.D., assistant professor of education, and juniors Tara Carey, John Kahaly, Rachel Tomashosky and Sydney Weedon arrived on Jan. 9 with a mission to help.

During their visit, the group stayed with the Brothers on the property of the school and the Catholic Church of the Parish of St. Elizabeth. The school is co-educational with students from ages 12-18, and a boarding option might become available in the future. 

The Manhattan group spent a week helping in the classroom with students who function at different levels, and also organizing more physical education within the school.

“John and I worked with the children on their communication and critical thinking skills,” said Weedon, an exercise science/pre-physical therapy major. “The coolest part was watching the kids improve so quickly with the short amount of time we were there.”

They also followed the practices the Brothers have put in place in just a few short months. The pair has implemented many of Saint John Baptist de La Salle’s core principles including adding a daily devotional prayer and teaching practical life skills, such as cooking and carpentry, which will help students’ find work in Jamaica’s thriving tourism industry. In addition, they have created professional development workshops for teachers to keep their skills up-to-date.

“My students, Tara Carey and Rachel Tomashosky, were given the opportunity to take over Br. James’ class and present lessons on topics in literacy relevant to the established curriculum,” McCarthy said. “Br. James and I gave feedback on our student teachers’ planning and delivery. It was a truly unique and rewarding experience and the Jamaican students were most receptive to our students as instructors.”

“The class that Tara and I mostly worked with were ninth grade students from the ages of 14 to 16,” said Tomashosky, an elementary/special education major. “Although most students could read, many could not.”

Carey said her experience in Jamaica made her reflect on her time in Br. Gus’ Principles and Practices of Education course last year and how he stressed the importance of a caring, passionate and energetic faculty. He also pointed out the value of creating a sense of community and a positive learning environment in the school. 

“It was a great learning experience for me to see him firsthand actually implementing everything he had taught us in class,” said Carey, an elementary and special education major. 

“Br. Gus and Br. James truly live out the teaching belief of ‘teaching minds and touching hearts,’” she added. “I want to help children believe in themselves, challenge themselves and push them to be the best person they can possible be.”