By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Chandler High School principal Larry Rother is passionate about education.
When he was chosen to travel with Lifetouch Memory Mission to build a school in a small, mountainous farming community in the Dominican Republic, he made sure it was a schoolwide project.
“I’m trying to incorporate as much as Chandler High as I can into this trip, so it’s not just about my experiences in the Dominican,” said Rother, who left Jan. 16 and will return Jan. 24.
“It’s a schoolwide thing. I partnered with the photography class and they gave me a workshop on how to take good pictures so I could document my trip. Then, when I return, they’re going to critique my photos.”
The Spanish classes at Chandler High will communicate with him via Google Hangout when he’s in the Dominican Republic to hear his experiences. Before he left, the students schooled him in the economics, culture and religion of the village of Rio Grande in Constanza, Dominican Republic.
“I have a good flavor of how it’s going to be,” he said. “The other cool thing is I’m taking two suitcases down with donations from the baseball and soccer teams. I’ll have sporting goods that the kids donated—equipment, jerseys—all on behalf of Chandler High School.”
The students and principal took the project a step further and raised money for the next mission through a Memory Minute.
“It’s a 1-minute fundraiser right before break, when the students donated spare change,” Rother said. “We raised between $700 and $800 to be used for the next mission trip. My mission trip is all covered by Lifetouch. The money we raise will be used for building supplies for the next year.”
During the trip, Rother and 51 other volunteers will work on a variety of projects to finish building a school, including constructing structures with concrete blocks.
“The first floor is built. We’re building the second story in Rio Grande,” Rother said.
While in the Dominican, volunteers have an opportunity to visit with community members, interact with teachers and students and participate in a day of photography for the village’s students and families in this village—many of whom have never seen a photo of themselves.
Rother was chosen for the project through his participation on the board of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. Lifetouch Photography, a national provider of school and family photography, organized the trip and invited school administrators, school board members, principals, other educators and PTA members to work alongside Lifetouch volunteers and Dominican nationals to build the school.
“They offered a slot to one of the board members,” he said. “I was able put into email my interest and I was selected. I was super excited about it.”
This is the sixth Memory Mission to Constanza. Volunteers have built an elementary school, which now serves hundreds of children who otherwise would not have the chance to receive an education. Additionally, volunteers have built a vocational school, providing a place for students to continue their education, offering greater opportunities for careers as adults.
Missionary work is new to Rother.
“But this was right up my alley because it’s education based,” he added. “I heard it can be a life-changing experience, being immersed in a culture and the physicality of building a school for kids. When the students have recess, we’re going to take a break and have recess right alongside them.
“I think it’s going to be enlightening for me, having spent all of my life in the United States. I’m excited to see how it works over there.”
A New York native, Rother will spend his days—7 a.m. to 5 p.m.—doing masonry work.
“I’ll be putting up cement walls,” he said. “I have done exactly zero masonry work in my life. When I applied, I said I was pretty good at carrying a wheelbarrow back and forth. All of the folks who are going were asked to bring a hammer and a trowel and be ready to work.”
Rother, who has been the Chandler High School principal for four years, is eager to share his experiences with his students.
“I’m excite about coming back and sharing experiences with the classes,” he said. “It’s a great experience and if it’s something that can be used as a learning experience for kids, I want to try to do that wherever I can.”