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"Life Changing" Spring Break Trip to Puerto Rico
Jack Newman

This past spring, 15 students and two teachers traveled to Puerto Rico for one week cultural and linguistic immersion, volunteer work, and sustainability studies.

The trip was inspired by the school community's outreach to the people of Puerto Rico in the weeks after the destruction of Hurricane Maria in the fall of 2017. Doane students, staff, and families rallied to send 30+ boxes of supplies and raised funds for a generator to the Montalbano family and their community in the town of Isabela, Puerto Rico. The Montalbano family has a strong connection to Doane. Senora Montalbano was a Spanish teacher here for 13 years and their children Ricky and Elda, attended our school. We met up with Evelyn, her husband Gregory, and Elda at lunch one afternoon of our trip. It was a wonderful experience to see them after 5 years and for some of her former students to see her again!

On our trip, we had a mission to support the local population in their efforts to rebuild. 100% of our trip was oriented toward this goal. Our trip took us to all parts of the island. We spent the first half of the week in the southwest of Puerto Rico, using the small fishing village of La Parguera as our homebase. We visited the town of Yauco where we helped with maintenance of a large mural that is part of a recent public art movement called Yauchromatic that is revitalizing the town and drawing in tourists.

At the end of our trip, each student was asked to reflect on their "high", "low", and "glitter" moments. Glitter moments are those that are very personal for each person that left a profound impact on them for some reason. Yaricelys Spruill commented on her time in Yauco, "A highlight for me was talking to a couple in Yauco who were talking to me about their son and how proud they were of him. They talked so well about him and they were both so welcoming to all of us. I didn't feel like a tourist but more like a friend. Laylah Abdullah enjoyed the town of La Parguera, commenting that she enjoyed "the culture at night and seeing the people dancing together."

One of the highlights of the trip for many of the students was our night swim in the bioluminescent bay. Faith Soanes said, "My glitter moment was the bioluminescent bay because of how beautifully indescribable it was."

We spent a day journeying through the mountains before arriving in Fajardo for the remainder of our trip. On the way, we stopped in the town of Adjuntas and toured a local non-profit organization called Casa Pueblo. Casa Pueblo's mission is to improve the lives of the people of Adjuntas through grass roots organization and education. They also have the only satellite radio tower in the entire Caribbean. This radio served as a crucial link between the island and the rest of the world in the days, weeks, and months after the hurricane. Mr. Cook was interviewed on air to talk about our trip, and purpose of our visit to Casa Pueblo! Jordyn McIntosh said, "my glitter moment was Casa Pueblo and learning about the initiatives that locals started to help other people. They were doing great things to help the community even before the hurricane hit, and are still continuing to do so this day."

The last part of our trip was spent in the north east part of the island. We visited Old San Juan and toured the San Cristobal fort. Afterwards, the students had free time to get lunch and visit shops. Alicia Reid and Mackenzie Cardis both identified the friendliness of the owners from particular shop as a magical moment for them. Alicia said, "In Old San Juan, there was a lovely couple who welcomed us with love. We talked the whole time and they asked all about us. Inside of the shop, they had a room with fish that lit up when the lights were off to represent the bio bay." Mackenzie added, "the owners invited us in and called it our home."

We enjoyed the natural wonder of the area on our last full day of the trip as we took a catamaran ride out to Icacos island and enjoyed an afternoon of snorkeling and swimming. Ryan DiDominico, like many others, described this experience as a highlight of his trip. "One of my favorite parts of the trip were the ocean and sea that we swam in because I love to swim and seeing how they take care of the ocean and seeing how clear the water was was incredible."

Our final morning ended with an itinerary change. We were supposed to tour part of the University of Puerto Rico. The day happened to be Emancipation Day, which is a national holiday and there were no students on campus that day. So instead, we went to the in-home studio of artist Samuel Lind, in the town of Loiza. Lind is a renowned artist who depicts island life, particularly that of the Afro-Caribbean community. This was a powerful experience for all, and many students came home with signed prints from Lind!

This was a life changing trip for students and teachers alike!

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