Northern Essex, Haverhill Schools, AgeSpan, Others Take Part in Dominican Republic Exchange

Members of the local contingent, organized by Northern Essex Community College, during their visit to Dr. Miguel Lazaro Canela STEAM Academy in the Dominican Republic. (Courtesy photograph.)

A cross section of Merrimack Valley professionals, ranging from Haverhill educators to regional healthcare providers, spent last week in the Dominican Republic in an effort to better understand the needs and aims of immigrants.

The trip, the sixth one organized over the years by Northern Essex Community College Vice President Noemi Custodia-Lora, included visits to middle and high schools and colleges. Speaking to WHAV from the Dominican Republic, Northern Essex President Lane A. Glenn said Friday the college has a central interest in better understanding its students and their families.

“Forty percent of our students are from the Dominican Republic. We want to be able to understand the culture our students come from to better serve them and to help them be successful which is why it is so important that we have faculty and staff (participating). The college works with a lot of community leaders and organizations in order to best serve our students. Educational leaders, healthcare providers, business leaders and so forth,” he said.

Similarly, Haverhill school Superintendent Margaret Marotta said her goal is to build relationships with educators and possibly involve local teachers in cultural exchanges in the future.

“Many of our kids come from the Dominican Republic to our schools. We want to be better able to serve our students. Hoping to make some relationships here. We visited several universities,” she explained.

The superintendent said knowledge of the Dominican Republic culture is critical to understanding the needs of newly arriving students.

“To just get a sense of culture in the community and how our kids live, to adapt to what we do, to support them better. Particularly, to the kids when they first come in. Some of our kids come in and speak no English,” Marotta said.

Besides Marotta and Northern Essex’s six-member contingent, other participants were Joan Hatem-Roy, CEO of AgeSpan; Stacie Bloxham, director of the Supporting Transitions And Reentry (STAR) program at the Essex County Sheriff’s Department; Robin Hynds chief operating officer, executive vice president at Lawrence General Hospital; and George A. Ramirez, executive director of the Lawrence Partnership.

Glenn said involving representatives from the community’s many walks of life provides a better overall picture. “To better understand those populations through the lens of elder services, through the lens of k-12 education, through the lens of healthcare—all those things are important to us as well,” he said.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Glenn said, the trip was the first in several years to involve the college’s community partners.

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