This is the 14th year of Alternative Spring Break, sponsored by The Pipeline Project at the UW. Since it began, nearly 680 UW undergrads have worked with 9,500 K-12 students. This year, teams of UW students will branch out to 13 communities across the state to work with 780 rural students from elementary to high school.
UW students volunteering for Alternative Spring Break come from a wide range of majors, including education and pre-med. The program is so popular it has a waiting list.
"About 40 percent of UW participants have an interest in education as a career and see this as a great way to experience rural education, but most of them participate because it sounds like a really awesome way to spend spring break," said Christine Stickler, director of The Pipeline Project.
Students will leave on Sunday, March 23, and be in the classrooms March 24-28. Five-member teams at the nine sites that focus on literacy and art will work with students to "find their voice" in writing about themselves. At the end of the week, UW students will bring the younger students' stories back to campus to create a professional-quality magazine. Every student in the program will receive a copy.
Teams at three other sites will focus on environmental topics. A special nine-member team has already spent the entire year working with Native American fifth-graders in Neah Bay, using oral histories, digital storytelling and photography to help children explore their culture.
Besides Neah Bay, UW student teams will work in Forks and LaPush on the Olympic Peninsula; Harrah, Toppenish and Mattawa in the Yakima Valley; Brewster, Omak, Curlew, Tonasket, Oroville and Kalama in the Okanogan; and in Long Beach.
UW students usually stay with host families or teachers. But in Omak they'll stay in onsite student dorms, and at Neah Bay they'll stay in cabins on tribal land. The Pipeline Project covers their lodging and transportation costs, and the students do fundraising to cover their food costs.
"We don't charge students anything, because we don't want cost to be a barrier for anyone participating," Stickler said.
Students do not get school credit for participating in Alternative Spring Break, but Stickler said they receive much more than just a course grade.
"It's an opportunity for our UW students to have what many of them describe as a transformative experience. They come back thinking about the state in a way they've never thought about before, especially in terms of rural education," Stickler said, adding that the experience links rural teachers and students to the UW in a concrete way. "It can lead to some very magical outcomes."