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Students participate in Alternative Reading Week at Winnipeg Harvest in February 2015.

Students participate in Alternative Reading Week at Winnipeg Harvest in February 2015

Alternative Reading Week sees students hone skills in the community

Program draws 'extremely positive' responses

February 16, 2016 — 

With an eye on pursuing a career as a pediatrician, Morsal Arianta lined up plans to help children during Alternative Reading Week.

Arianta, a bachelor of science student majoring in psychology, said she hopes to fine-tune her skills during the week as a leader with a group of University of Manitoba students working with children at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Winnipeg.

“I feel like having that experience with kids and knowing how to deal with situations, how to help a child grow or have somebody to look up to, that drew me in,” said Arianta.

This marks her first year participating in Alternative Reading Week: Winnipeg.

U of M students involved in the program will volunteer at a range of non-profit organizations through the week of Feb. 16, including at Winnipeg Harvest and Newcomers Employment and Education Development Services Inc.

Along with the Winnipeg program, organized in a partnership between the student life department and UMSU, there are also two international placements this year run by student life.

Brendan Hughes, executive director of student engagement at the U of M, said the Alternative Reading Week programs compliment student learning and give them access to apply to communities what they’ve learned in the classroom.

“From our perspective, we feel that we’re enhancing their student experience,” said Hughes.

About 40 students are participating in the program in Winnipeg this year, while 11 students headed off to Belize and Ecuador, he said.

“There’s a theme involved, so Belize is about connecting with indigenous ways of agriculture as well as education, so they’re working with a school – a Mayan institute on language and culture,” said Hughes, adding the students have headed to inland, rural communities there.

“In Ecuador, they’re going into the Amazon and to learn more about the impact of the oil and gas industry,” said Hughes.

Along with enabling students to carry out community engagement and use their skills in the community, he said it also helps establish important connections.

“(It) helps students from any discipline to be able to come together and work with a community partner,” he said. “It’s a reciprocal relationship with an organization that is looking to make the world a better place, starting in Winnipeg or whatever community we’re in, and where the students have an interest in exploring their interests and to hone their skills. Our students are quite capable.”

Hughes said the response to the program has been “extremely positive” over the years, including seeing some students decide to shift their majors based on their experiences.

“They had such a transformative experience (at Alternative Reading Week) that they felt that by engaging in the community, they decided they wanted to explore social work, or education or law as examples,” said Hughes. “It just opened their eyes to the possibilities of what they actually wanted to do…that again is another opportunity we’re trying to afford students is helping them figure out what they’re passionate about.”

Some students will be taking over the @umstudent Instagram account during Alternative Reading Week February 15th-19th, for a different perspective on the February break. Follow the many different service learning experiences, both local and international, on Instagram with #altreadingweek.

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