Elon graduate leaves indelible mark on global education
A newly minted Elon alumna used a service trip to Honduras to bolster her lessons this spring as a student teacher in a local high school.
By Caitlin O’Donnell ‘13
It was a handful of letters that launched Phyllis Jarrell ’12 on a path of strengthening education both at home and abroad.
After working with teenage boys in Honduras for weeks during an Elon-sponsored trip, Jarrell received letters thanking her for her service with one key component lacking – they were generally illegible.
"It was incredibly to me that I had spent the last two weeks sitting there mixing cement when we could have been reading, writing and all of this other stuff that would have really made a direct impact on their future," she said.
Jarrell's interest in Latin America was born during a high school service trip to Mexico and was strengthened by a project in her Global Experience class. Doing research on poverty in the region, she discovered a blog about a group in Honduras working with street children.
From there, the pieces seemed to fall into place as, within a few years, she was selected as the leader of an Alternative Break trip to Honduras, doing construction work at ProNino. At its conclusion, she decided to return to the country the following Winter Term with a small group of friends.
Primarily focusing on preparing the Honduran students for the upcoming school year, which begins in February, Jarrell also wanted to find a way to incorporate their experiences into her impending student teaching assignment at Northeast Guilford High School.
"Social justice is something I've always wanted to include in my classroom," she said. "I wanted to add something meaningful and get my students outside of the classroom and outside of themselves."
Along with a collection drive for clothing and other donations, Jarrell implemented a simple pen pal system through which the Honduran and American students could communicate. During her visit there in Winter Term, she collected letters, which she then shared with her American students at the conclusion of a lesson on street children.
"This was really cool because I kept it a secret from my students," she said. "After spending all of this time learning about street children, just to say 'here is something that they gave you' - it was really cool to see that. And it was nice to shift their focus from 'me, me, me' mentality to what's going on outside of them."
While Jarrell said many of the students returned to their original way of thinking, the project was still meaningful.
"The important thing is drawing tangible connections between two worlds and making them realize that these people aren't just the ones we see on TV in the really sad commercials, but they’re real," she said.
During her time at Elon, Jarrell also served as president of Club Dance and participated in Flight of the Phoenix. After graduation, she hopes to teach in Virginia and eventually return to Honduras during her summers off.
Her advice for other students? It's simple - service.
"Go and do any sort of service in any third world country," she said. "It's a life changer and having been a leader of two different trips, you see the transformation, before and after, of the people who go."