All across the UMass campus, students are saying goodbye to mom and dad, armed with big dreams and the hope of making lifelong friendships. It was the same in the fall of 2005 for Jeff Pluta '08, ’09 MEd
, Sarah Wormann
and Doug Taylor '08
as they moved into Wheeler Hall as sophomores. Now nearly a decade later, the UMass friendship has led them to lives in the barrios of Nicaragua and to their dream jobs of running their own nonprofit, Amped for Education
, giving underserved children the opportunity of a high school education.
“Looking at the Nicaraguan education structure, there’s a clear gap,” says Executive Director Pluta of the Central American country that designates its limited resources to only ensure that the population has a primary school education. Amped for Education leverages fundraising, grants and the elbow grease of volunteers of all ages to build everything from the schools to the curricula that help create a new infrastructure of secondary schools in-country.
Amped Baseball Team
“The critical thinking and problem solving skills that students gain from ages 12-17 are vital in creating a better future for themselves and their children,” Pluta says. He knows firsthand how to instill students with these skills having recently taken a sabbatical from his post as a history teacher at Smith Academy in Hatfield to dedicate the next year to Nicaraguan students. “As I design and write curriculum for Amped for Education’s newest Learning Center opening in October, I draw on my work from Smith Academy. It was wanting to take my students on a field trip to Nicaragua that gave way to Amped for Education’s newest social enterprise, bringing high school groups here to volunteer and tour the country, while incorporating educational components and reflection.”
Left to right: Doug Taylor '08, Dan Robinson '14,
Jeff Pluta '08, ’09 MEd.
Students from both Amherst High School and Frontier Regional High School in South Deerfield have helped build schools with the organization. One recent UMass graduate even made the move to Nicaragua to work for the nonprofit fulltime. Dan Robinson ’14
was creating the videos and social media for the UMass Ski and Board Club when his work caught the attention of a former club president—Jeff Pluta.
“I have so much pride for UMass,” says Pluta, “and that was definitely the first place I thought of when considering bringing on additional staff. It means a ton to me personally to keep connected to UMass in this way. Plus, Dan and I get to discuss crazy Ski Club antics and how leading college kids around Quebec City prepared us for facilitating trips for Amped for Education.”
Whether advocating for people to donate just $100 to educate a child for an entire year, teaching some of Nicaragua’s poorest children or leading volunteers on afternoon breaks to some of the best beaches in the world, the Amped for Education team uses all aspects of their own education to help others.
“Once you have an experience in a rural community in Nicaragua and look someone in the eye and say, ‘Voy a volver’ (I will come back), you can't just go back on that. But honestly since then,” Pluta describes of the first year of Amped for Education, “I’ve felt that way every day.”
To find out more about Amped for Education, book a voluntourism trip or donate to the cause, visit AmpedForEducation.org