West Prep students help schools abroad

BY GABE HERMAN | West Prep Academy middle school on the Upper West Side offers a unique service learning program that gives students a special opportunity to work abroad with vulnerable children in Costa Rica.

Seventh and eighth graders at West Prep, at 150 W. 105 St., participate in the program, which partners with the nonprofit Squads Abroad. The group travels to Guanacaste, Costa Rica, where they help to refurbish local schools.

This April, students in the program painted several murals in Costa Rica, including educational images for children to learn from, according to Nicole Feliciano, head of the West Prep social studies department. Feliciano teaches the class with Chante Orane, a West Prep eighth-grade science teacher.

During the April trip, the group also constructed a new bookshelf in a classroom, and started to build relationships with the children through art and play, Feliciano said.

The West Prep group in Costa Rica in April. (Courtesy Nicole Feliciano)
Working on a mural during the Costa Rica trip. (Courtesy Nicole Feliciano)

Feliciano transitioned seven years ago from private schools to the public school system.

“The middle school students in my private schools had multiple opportunities to travel internationally,” she said. “Beyond working to close the academic achievement gap, I look to close the opportunity gap for our scholars at West Prep Academy. It is critical to the development of our scholars that they have experiences — specifically ones in which they are able to engage within a community — that are on par with their peers in other schools.”

A West Prep student with a Costa Rican youngster during the trip. (Courtesy Nicole Feliciano)

While West Prep doesn’t have the budget to fund overseas trips for its students, the staff was able to raise funds and last year brought in $20,000. The money allowed for nine students to travel to Costa Rica. Feliciano plans to return there next February with more students.

“We will continue to fundraise on behalf of our students,” she said, “and look for people and organizations who are willing to spread the word about the amazing things our scholars are doing.”

A West Prep student working on a mural in Costa Rica. (Courtesy Nicole Feliciano)
The Upper West Side students built and painted a bookshelf during the trip, among other activities. (Courtesy Nicole Feliciano)
The West Prep service learning program makes it as easy as the ABC’s for students to help out schools abroad. (Courtesy Nicole Feliciano)