Magazine Feature / People

Students opt for a different kind of spring break

While most college spring breaks bring waves of ocean water, drinking and unadulterated hedonism, some University of Denver students are opting for breaks that yield ripples of change and hope throughout communities.

Case in point: Sophomore psychology major Manuel Del Real will spend his spring break March 17–25 in a Denver inner city neighborhood as part of the Denver Urban Immersion program to learn about how the area tackles its problems. 

The obvious question: Why give up a week of sun and fun?  

“I want to learn more about the issues surrounding my community and be able to help out any way I can,” Del Real says.

And besides, he says he’s never really been very productive during a spring break. 

“I felt that this kind of spring break would keep me active and let me help out my community,” he says. 

Glenn Fee, who directs the alternative break program for DU’s Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning, says the University has offered alternative breaks for seven years. They’re all about exposing students to important issues — environmental sustainability, homelessness, fair trade, immigration and education, Fee says.

Students are encouraged to find a program that matches their interests and think about how they might address issues raised in that program. 

Other DU alternative breaks include restoring trails and exploring ecosystems with National Park Service personnel in Big Bend National Park in Texas, volunteering at schools in small villages in Mexico and learning about international development in Guatemala.

Fee says usually about 20 students do alternative breaks, but that the number has grown significantly this year to 35 students. He says he hopes to see 50 next year.

Fee adds that students never have regrets about choosing alternative spring breaks. 

“DU students are quick to make the connections between their experience on spring break and their academic work,” he says. “It bolsters their learning experience at the University and helps them work through how they can best contribute their talents to whatever community they choose to become a part of after they leave the University.” 

Fee says he decided to create the Denver immersion program last year as a way to connect students with activists and civic leaders in Denver, but also as a way to help strengthen the University’s connection to the community.

Students in the immersion break will live in a hostel in the Five Points neighborhood near downtown for the week. They’ll also volunteer at the Denver Rescue Mission, visit two inner-city schools and meet with Denver’s mayor, the Denver Public School District’s superintendent and other community leaders. 

As for Del Real, he says he won’t miss a normal spring break. 

“I’ve never been on a cool spring break,” he says. “I usually just find myself at home watching TV and eating.”

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