Each spring, some 50 University of Washington undergraduates forgo the typical spring break trappings of beaches and flip-flops, choosing instead to volunteer in rural and tribal communities throughout Washington state. As part of the UW Pipeline Project’s Alternative Spring Break program, they will lead hundreds of K-12 students March 22 to 26 in literacy arts or environmental education projects in schools from La Push and Forks on the Olympic Peninsula to Eastern Washington’s Tonasket. The week culminates with each elementary or middle school student publishing a book and displaying it at a celebration.
This spring break marks the 10th anniversary for Alternative Spring Break program. Launched in 2001, the first annual Alternative Spring Break sent UW undergraduates out to four different locations. Today, the number has expanded to nine locations in Washington State. Over the years, nearly 500 UW undergraduates have worked with more than 7,000 students across the state.
“My experience during Alternative Spring Break was a truly unique and enlightening one,” said Beth Gawne, UW senior who volunteered in Toppenish last year. “Not only was I able to learn more about myself as a teacher, but I learned so much about the education and social systems in a rural community very different from my own.”
Through the Alternative Spring Break program, UW students participate in extensive, regional service-learning programs in rural Washington schools. The schools range from elementary schools to high schools. While working with rural communities, Alternative Spring Break immerses undergraduate students in purposeful literacy, arts, and environmental education projects designed to connect students and community members while enhancing personal growth, mutual awareness, and life-long learning.
Alternative Spring Break participants call upon their experiences long after volunteering in rural Washington classrooms. As an undergraduate, UW alumna Solmaz Mohadjer participated in Alternative Spring Break for three years. Today, she uses the book-making technique she learned in Alternative Spring Break to teach earthquake preparedness to school children in rural China and Tajikistan with Teachers Without Borders.
Alternative Spring Break is supported by the Pipeline Project, which is a K-12 outreach program that links undergraduate students from the University of Washington with both educational and service opportunities within the Seattle Public Schools through tutoring and mentoring. It is housed within Undergraduate Academic Affairs’ Center for Experiential Learning.