In January, Hot Springs School District Superintendent Stephanie Nehus will go on a once-in-a-lifetime mission trip with around 39 other educators to build schoolhouses in Guatemala.
The trip is a program offered by Lifetouch, a nationwide photography company well-known around the county for its school photo services. The Lifetouch Memory Mission has been ongoing for 20 years, serving multiple different countries around the globe.
Nehus said she's been inspired year after year during the administrator conferences where the previous year's mission trip stories and videos were shown. She said the program randomly draws around 40 individuals from around the nation to participate in the program. After applying three times over the years, she was finally chosen.
"This one really stood out to me because they're building a bottle school," she said. "So a school out of plastic bottles that have been stuffed with non-organic trash to create actual brick-like bottles."
Video not playing? Click here https://www.youtube.com/embed/zEpRHS7ep_U
According to Lifetouch's website, the schoolhouse structure is estimated to last around 100 years.
Nehus said she has always wanted to go on a mission trip, specifically one that centered around education and with other educators nationwide. She said this experience will be the trip of a lifetime and she is excited to go.
"The opportunity to get to network and to meet other professionals in the field, learn from them, share this experience, the opportunity to build a school," she said. "Obviously, education is very close to my heart, and so the opportunity to give students something that they don't have really appealed to me as well. I just think it's kind of a win-win."
Nehus said they will build a three-room schoolhouse, giving the locals a designated structure to teach and learn in.
"It's really hard for us to fathom that here in the U.S. and here in our district," she said. "Our schools are much bigger than that. Our students have facilities that are what we consider world-class, state-of-the-art facilities, and to think that there's areas and countries that don't even have a location to go to. So I think we'll definitely be improving the opportunity for education there by giving students and families a place for students to learn."
She said she believes she will grow personally and professionally from the experience. One aspect the district prides itself on, according to Nehus, is its International Baccalaureate program, which focuses on global mindedness.
"So being able to bring those experiences back and sharing with students in our Hot Springs School District community, who might be from an area like Guatemala or a surrounding area," she said, "it'll give me a connection with those students as well.
"But I think anytime you can give back, you are made a better professional and a better person," she said. "I am a servant leader. So, the opportunity to go serve is something that I know will impact me for a lifetime. But I look forward to sharing my experience with the Hot Springs School District and with other colleagues around the state."