BENTON—“The Peace Corps has always been a dream of mine,” Kelly Laschinger, the Spanish teacher at Benton Schools, said. She is following that dream to the Dominican Republic in February.
“It’s difficult to leave, especially at the middle of the school year,” Laschinger said. “But, I had no say as to the departure date.”
She said she has been very interested in living and teaching abroad. In 2008 she applied for the Peace Corps, was interviewed and decided not to go through with it.
“I’ve second-guessed that decision ever since,” Laschinger said. “This year I decided to try again.”
She talked with a Peace Corps volunteer in April and reaffirmed that she was still interested in participating in the program. She submitted her application in April 2016 and started the lengthy process of paperwork, interviews and health evaluation.
“I’ll be going to an area without the type of healthcare access we have here,” Laschinger said. “They want to make sure we aren’t compromised.”
The process includes a detailed interview to ensure that you can adjust to a wide variety of situations, a background check, fingerprinting, medical tests and dental x-rays, all within a 90-day window. She had to receive multiple shots for immunizations and be tested for a wide variety of diseases. She received her medical clearance in December and notified the school administration as soon as she knew she was cleared to participate in the program.
Laschinger said the application process has been modernized in the last eight years. The first time she applied she had to drive to Madison for a face-to-face interview with a representative from the Peace Corps; this time she used Skype to interview.
She leaves on Feb. 28 for pre-service training. She will spend three months in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, where she will learn about the language, culture and safety. She had a choice of where she wanted to be placed. Dominican Republic wasn’t her first choice—which was Costa Rica—but it was her second. Her third choice was Ecuador.
While Laschinger knows the country she will be working in for the next two years, she won’t know which community until after her training. She has been told her focus will be on elementary education and Spanish literacy, particularly reading and writing.
She will live with families during her training and possibly during her two years of service.
“I prefer it that way for the learning aspect,” Laschinger said. “You can learn so much more when you are fully integrated into the culture.”
She said she also wants to make connections with the locals.
“I’m excited about the language,” Laschinger said. “I speak Spanish well, but nowhere near a native speaker. I hope that by the end I can speak like a native.”
She has been reading up on the country and listening to podcasts by current peace corps volunteers in the country. She will be packing light as she won’t be able to drive, so she will have to carry everything she brings. She may need to purchase some items when she arrives. A cell phone that works in the country is provided through the program.
Laschinger will receive a stipend equivalent to what the locals would receive for the same work. She said she sees this opportunity as professional development. She will be teaching in Spanish.
“My family is really excited,” Laschinger said. “They love to travel. I know it won’t be long before they visit me.”
Laschinger said she’s participated in a study abroad program in the past and it forced her to use the language and become confident with it.
“Once school is out, I’m gone for the whole summer,” Laschinger said. “Even during the school year I’m traveling across the country to see family. I love to travel. Growing up we always took a big summer vacation. We usually drove, so I’m used to long road trips. I got the travel bug young and still love to travel.”
Laschinger is originally from Verona. She graduated from Verona High School in 2003 and from UW-Platteville with a degree in Spanish and criminal justice in 2008. After college, she subbed at the Verona Schools and found that she loved teaching. She returned to UW-Platteville for a degree in education. She did her student teaching in Mount Horeb and Stoughton before getting hired in 2011 at Benton. She worked for two years in both the Benton and Southwestern schools as a shared Spanish teacher, then in Lancaster for one year before returning to Benton as the fulltime K-12 Spanish teacher.
Laschinger will complete the first semester and then Karisa Timmerman, the third grade teacher, will take over the Spanish teacher role. The school is hiring a new third grade teacher to take over Timmerman’s classroom the rest of the school year. At the end of the school year, Timmerman will be able to decide if she would like to continue as the Spanish teacher or return as a third grade teacher.
Laschinger said she plans to share her experiences with others. Through World Wise School, she hopes to connect with the Verona and Benton students.