This 2011/2012 academic year, Island Routes Caribbean Adventure Tours, the world’s leading Caribbean attraction company, joins the Sandals Foundation to take Caribbean visitors on an exciting journey to boost literacy in primary and early childhood schools.
The groundbreaking voluntourism initiative, dubbed “Reading Road Trip,” now offered by Island Routes Tours, is a unique opportunity for guests visiting all Sandals Resorts and Beaches Resorts to engage students ages 5-7 in activities geared at improving their literacy, vocabulary and comprehension. The initiative was originally launched by the Sandals Foundation in May 2011.
Volunteers will visit one of the Foundation’s adopted early childhood or primary schools where they’ll have the opportunity to interact with small groups of children in active reading exercises and assist with their reading skills sheets. Staff will be on hand to guide participants on how to engage and encourage students and provide materials. In addition, volunteers are encouraged to bring new or gently used books to share with the children and donate to the school’s library.
“Reading Road Trip” will run from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. every Thursday, September to June in Jamaica, Turks and Caicos, St Lucia, Antigua, and Great Exuma, The Bahamas, at a cost of US$20 per person, ages 13 years and older. Children between the ages of 8-12 are complimentary and all minors must be accompanied by an adult.
“We are very excited about this new education initiative and our partnership with the Sandals Foundation,” says David Shields, general manager of Island Routes Caribbean Adventure Tours. “Our mandate for our Community Routes program is to develop tours that get guests involved and contributing – educationally and environmentally – with the contributions benefitting the local community.”
“We [the Sandals Foundation] believe this is an important exercise, not only because it provides guests a chance to give back to our communities but because children really benefit from having one-on-one assistance in the learning-to-read phase,” said Heidi Clarke, director of programmes at the Sandals Foundation.
“Encouraging active listening and comprehension will also ultimately lead to the children being confident readers themselves. We are hoping that this program will play its part to provide those benefits and to facilitate that outcome,” she continued.
Sandals Whitehouse guest, Heather Olson, a past pre-school teacher from Minnesota, who participated in one such reading session last school year, said it was the highlight of her trip. “I would go back every day,” she said. “I was amazed at how well behaved they [the children] were and eager to learn.”
She added that the experience made her aware of the vast potential existing in the Jamaican classroom.
Principal of the West End Early Childhood Institution in Negril, Sophia Shacklewood was quite moved by the Foundation’s initiative. “A lot of the conditions in our Jamaican classrooms are not ideal; however children still have to learn. It is great to know that organizations and individuals who recognize our children’s potential are out there -- it gives us teachers a great feeling to know that we are also able to partner with these volunteers to do something to enhance our children’s learning experience.”
As the initiative grows, the “Reading Road Trip” is expected to expand to other schools outside of the 26 adopted Sandals Foundation schools across the region. Since its launch two years ago, the Sandals Foundation has implemented several educational programs, such as academic scholarships and book drives along with various school maintenance, upgrades and building efforts.