Most college students spend winter break making money or making merry, but as part of the Alternative Winter Break (AWB) program, eight Bowdoin students spent their last week of vacation in Portland making a difference.

The students visited Lincoln Middle School on Stevens Avenue to work with children who are English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). 50 of these ESOL middle schoolers will visit campus today for a tour of the College to culminate their partnership with Bowdoin students.

Some of the children come from areas as far away as Somalia and Cambodia and have been placed in Portland by refugee relocation programs. Today's visit to campus will represent an introduction to college life for many of the ESOL students. The trip had originally been scheduled for last Friday but was moved to today due to inclement weather.

AWB is currently in its third year of operation. Co-leader Samantha Collins '11 has been running AWB since the first trip in January of her sophomore year. This year, Bowdoin students worked with the Lincoln middle schoolers as part of a "College Bound and Ready" program that focused not only on academics but also, said Collins, on "figuring out who they were socially."

While at Lincoln Middle School, the Bowdoin students led discussions and panels about a variety of topics including diversity and the battle against prejudice, the prospect of a college education, and their experiences as ESOL students in the Maine public school system.

AWB participant Jordan Francke '13 reflected on the success of the program.

"[Lincoln] students in my group who led discussions among the other [ESOL] students were essentially silent during their biology and math classes," Francke wrote in an e-mail to the Orient. "This [contrast] really speaks to the importance of having programs such as these—they provide a forum for students struggling with the English language to discuss pertinent issues in an environment where others are struggling too."

Co-leader Mike Hendrickson '13 explained that helping the international population in Maine was "the new big initiative."

"Bates, for instance, which is located in Lewiston, has a refugee community. It makes sense for us to become more involved with the Portland community," said Hendrickson.

Heidi Cameron '88 now works as an ESOL teacher at Lincoln and said that the program was very well received by her students and "a great start." She described the unique role that college students can play in the lives of ESOL students.

"I think that for some of our students, just because they might be the first person in their family to even aspire to go to college or they're new to the country, they might not know the opportunities...available to them," said Cameron. She added that because her students saw the Bowdoin students as peers, they responded especially well to their information and advice.

Cameron also pointed out that "Lincoln's teaching staff is not one of color," and that many of her students come from multicultural backgrounds. When the Lincoln students visit campus today, they will be able to ask questions of a multicultural faculty panel who will talk about their own aspirations in middle school and how they ended up where they are today, according to Collins.

The students who participated in AWB and others will continue their work in Portland throughout this semester, with plans to also help out at Portland Adult Education, another location where they volunteered during the AWB week.

The AWB program had its most competitive year yet this winter, with 12 applicants for six available spots (excluding the co-leaders). Hendrickson said that, logistically, eight was "a really good amount." After logging long days down in Portland, participants cooked for themselves and slept in sleeping bags at 30 College Street.

The trip was funded jointly by the SAFC and the McKeen Center for Common Good, with each participant also paying a $125 trip fee.

All of the AWB participants were first years or sophomores, except for Collins who, as co-leader, was really happy with the group's relative youth and its potential to "fill the shoes."

Tasha Sandoval '13 wrote in an e-mail to the Orient that she "thought it was a great way to get more involved in the McKeen Center and shorten a sometimes tediously long Winter Break." While she said she was largely pleased with the experience, she noted that "I sometimes felt like there could have been more time spent on service and less on reflection."

In past years the groups had worked with Preble Street, a homelessness resource center in Portland. Hendrickson said that "expansion has definitely been talked about," with one group at Preble Street and another working with refugees. However, according to Hendrickson, there are no concrete plans yet.