Alternative Spring Break teaches EMCC students the value of service

February 19, 2019

Alternative Spring Break, set for March 11-13 at Tres Rios, benefits Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC) students in more ways than one.

Not only do Alternative Spring Breakers learn about social issues and collaborate on projects that directly and positively impact the community, but they also earn club points as well as service learning and honors credits. In addition, they make new friends, something Landis Elliott, Student Services Analyst and one of the event organizers, believes helps them succeed in college.

“Students who participate in Alternative Spring Break create and strengthen relationships with their peers on campus,” Landis said. “When they’re more likely to see a friendly face on campus, they’re more likely to persist at EMCC.”

Alternative Spring Break launched in 2016, and for the first two years, students and employees volunteered for Homeward Bound, an Arizona-based nonprofit that serves families going through homelessness. Each year, they helped to refurbish a home.

Last year, Alternative Spring Break moved to Tres Rios. Over the three days, students, faculty, and staff came together to revitalize Tres Rios, a wetlands area near ISM Raceway (formerly Phoenix International Raceway) in Avondale where the Agua Fria, Gila, and Salt rivers converge. Tres Rios is home to diverse wildlife and provides the perfect setting for canoeing, fishing, bird watching, and hiking.

“Many do not know of the beautiful Tres Rios area 20 minutes down the road — a very rich and beautiful natural area,” said Dr. Jarod Raithel, Life Sciences Professor who is also one of the event organizers.

Students who participated during last year’s event cleaned up trash from the parking lots and recreational areas. They also placed new signs along the hiking trail.

Revitalization efforts for this year include removing litter from the trail entrance, raking and loping vegetation back along the trail, repairing an informational gazebo that provides outreach on local nesting eagles, and documenting plant and animal species during a “Bioblitz.”

“Bioblitz was originally a national Geographic initiative to harness the power of citizen science to assess and monitor species biodiversity,” Raithel said, adding every student in every major benefits from taking part in the Bioblitz. “It may be of more interest to STEM students, but being able to identify common plant, bird, and insect species in our environment is a skill that is widely applicable.”

During last year’s Bioblitz, the EMCC team took pictures of soil, plants, birds, amphibians, and reptiles, recording 30 different species and contributing their findings to INaturalist, which documents and shares findings with others in scientific data around the country.

Students wishing to participate in Alternative Spring Break must apply at

To watch a video on last year's event click here: