Palmer Trinity School senior Juan Nicholls spent three weeks this past summer teaching at an orphanage in Columbia.
“I taught English, mathematics and how to use computers,” Nicholls says. “It was actually a lot of fun.”
He says they would switch things around every few days so the kids wouldn’t get bored. The children ranged in age from 10 to 13, but some were older.
“We thought if we made it too repetitive they wouldn’t have interest in the class,” he says.
They taught the same children for three weeks. Nicholls says the students enjoyed the class time and most took the opportunity to learn something new and were able to demonstrate that they knew what they had been taught.
The children in the orphanage had been taken out of the state system so they could be given more help than the state system could offer.
“What this orphanage does is pay for their education through college,” Nicholls says. “Most had been abused by their parents and abandoned. They got psychological counseling every day. They tried to help make them better people. It was a really touching experience that made me think about what I have.”
Nicholls found the orphanage through his aunt, who works for Microsoft. The software company is a big donor. He says the three weeks he spent at the orphanage had an impact on him.
“It really taught me the value of what you can do with community service,” he says. “I could see more directly how I could help.”
Nicholls’ grandmother recently went to the orphanage to drop off books and the kids asked her about her grandson. The kids even sent him a message, asking his grandmother to let him know that they learned a lot from him.
However, this wasn’t Nicholls’ first foray into community service in another country.
“Last year I went to Nicaragua with the school and we built a house for a family that couldn’t afford one,” he says. “They lived in a shanty and we built them a concrete house.”
At Palmer Trinity, Nicholls volunteers at the school’s Center for Writing. Last year he volunteered three times a week. This year he goes to the Center twice a week. He helps students work on essays.
“The teacher who directs it asks that we not work so much on their grammar, but on how to develop their thoughts.”
Nicholls enjoys writing and when he heard about the Center, he thought it would be a good way to help.
Although writing is important to him, Nicholls thinks his career path is in economics.
“That’s what I’m going to study in college,” he says. “I want to minor in photography.”
He applied to Dartmouth for early decision. His back-up schools include the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown, Harvard, Tulane, University of Florida, University of Miami and the University of Southern California.
He’s had a taste of the financial world from his participation in the school’s Investment Club.
“We manage $50,000 for the school and the profits go to the admissions office for financial aid,” he says. “We choose where to invest the money. Generally in low risk stocks that will give us a solid return. Last year we made 10 percent and that all went to the financial aid office.”
Nicholls moved to Miami from Brazil while he was still in the 10th grade. He is fluent in four languages — English, Spanish, Portuguese and French – and he’s an athlete, running cross-country track and playing lacrosse for Palmer. He also enjoys playing tennis and kite surfing.