Tragedy mars trip abroad

From their condo windows, students could see the city of Ocho Rios, Jamaica, during their winter service trip.

by Amber Cox

Rider students who took a service trip to Jamaica over the 2008-2009 winter break were shaken by the drowning death of a local high school student.

Andre Davis, a student of Iona High School in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, drowned Wednesday, Jan. 21, during a farewell party that Rider students held at the condominiums where they were staying.

The Rev. Nancy Schluter, Rider’s former Protestant chaplain who co-directed the trip, said that all students had to have a permission slip signed by their parents in order to swim. There are copies of all of the permission slips that the Rider group received.

After the incident occurred, many people said that Davis did not know how to swim. Signs stating that there was no lifeguard were posted all around the pool area.

Schluter also said that medical personnel arrived quickly and that the hospital tried everything.

“It was a tragic accident,” Schluter said. “I’m very appreciative of the people of Jamaica that knew the Rider group and tried to help. I’m also very appreciative of the Rider University students for their compassion, depth of understanding, and conversations they held with the Iona High School students immediately following this tragic event.”

Anthony Campbell, dean of students on the Lawrenceville campus, echoed the thoughts of Schluter.

“It was a tragic accident,” Campbell said. “We’re all very saddened by it.”

Mike Compton, a junior at Rider, said that there were about 20 Iona High School students at the farewell party and that only half were swimming.

“It seemed really surreal,” Compton said. “Nobody knew what happened. Everyone wanted explanations.”

The trip was 16 days long and the incident happened two days before the students left Jamaica to come home.

“We have been praying for Andre and his family,” Compton said. “Rider has been very sympathetic and supportive to everyone that went on the trip.”
Junior Lindsay King said she is “not very comfortable talking about the incident.”

“It was a terrible tragedy that no one could have predicted,” she added.

Rider students were in Jamaica as part of a service-learning trip. Rider has taken this same trip a total of 20 times before. Schluter and Don Brown, director of Rider’s Center for
Community Service and Multicultural Affairs, were two faculty members who accompanied the students.

Iona High School is one of two high schools that students participating in the trip go to in order to help tutor students.

The trip started in Kingston, the capital. Schluter said the time spent there was to help the group get to know each other and the Jamaican culture.

“When we first got there, I was just soaking it all in,” Compton said. “It hadn’t hit me yet that I was in Jamaica.”

While in Kingston, the group also went to the home of a Rider alumnus for a barbecue. He lives in Jamaica and has been allowing the group to come to his home for years.
The group then traveled up the mountains to go stay at an orphanage called the Pringle Home.

“The kids at Pringle Home were waiting for us outside,” Compton said. “It was like being unconditionally loved.”

Schluter said that the Rider students go around to local public schools during this segment of the trip to assist in the classrooms.

Compton taught at Karen Hall High and said that he had a blast and a lot of fun teaching the kids.

“The Pringle Home was the highlight of my trip,” Compton said. “I miss them.”

The group then traveled to a more upscale area, Ocho Rios, to help in the classrooms at Iona High School. Schluter said that Ocho Rios is now a tourist city. She also said that the Iona High School setting was more formal than the other area.

Although the trip ended in a way no one could have expected, Compton said that it was the experience of a lifetime.

“I wouldn’t tell anyone not to go on this trip,” Compton said.

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