Last year's trip to Costa Rica showed us that education can, and should, be a life-altering experience. This year, a largely new group of students, have decided to learn about and travel to Puerto Rico. With this new topic and destination in mind, we have developed a year-long interdisciplinary class that is based on the same three core principles:

1) Travel to expand students' horizons
2) An explicit connection between the classroom and real world
3) The use of sweat equity for students to see that their efforts can make a difference

During the early fall, the curriculum was largely focused on developing the 21st Century Skills of problem solving, critical thinking, decision-making, and collaboration. This was initially done using group challenges in the classroom, but then became vitally important once we started raking lawns. In addition to being our major fundraiser, this hard work put students in positions that required group problem solving, as well as perseverance and responsibility – traits that we all know are central to changing the trajectory of their lives.

During the winter and spring, each student will be developing an independent research project on a chosen aspect of Puerto Rico.
We hope that you will keep checking back as we share our learning, growth and adventures.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Our Day in Old San Juan

Hannah’s Blog Post
Thursday, May 25, 2012
Today was a full day.  First, we took an extensive tour of Old San Juan. 

My visit in Old San Juan truly was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  I have never seen such a bright and colorful city with buildings so exquisite in nature.  They varied in rainbow colors, like reds, blues, teals, purples, yellows, and pinks.  The architecture was fantastic, as well.  I was totally taken aback by the magnificence of the Spanish architecture.  The entire time, I found myself continually wondering: “How is it I have never seen the beauty in architecture before?”  I have seen pictures before, after all.  The only answer I could come up with is that such a glorious sight could never be properly captured on film.  Although that didn’t stop me from trying.  I doubt very much if the pictures I took—and I took A LOT— will do the city justice.  In addition to our tour of Old San Juan, we also got to explore several forts that were built by the Spaniards in the early 1500s.  They were very cool, and their location (Oceanside) added to their regality.  As strange as it sounds, my favorite part of the forts was seeing the old graveyard.  Odd, I know.  But I have never seen anything quite like it.  The graveyard was not open to public at that time, but I got some fabulous aerial views.  I find it difficult to explain how wonderfully different that graveyard is from the ones back home.  First of all, it is literally right on the ocean.  The gorgeous Oceanside view made me (a little) jealous of the people buried there.  It was a real old-fashioned graveyard—like the kind you see in books and movies.  The Catholic and Spanish influence was very prominent, and each grave/tombstone exerted a regal quality, like someone of extraordinary importance was buried there.  Most of the tombs were white marble and had some sort of statue or cross at the base.  Also keeping with Puerto Rican theme, a lot of the tombs had flowers planted or placed next to or on them.  Unlike the cemeteries back home, however, these flowers were colorful, bright and cheerful.   Again, unlike our customs back home where we place flowers as way of mourning the loss of our loved ones, these flowers are more symbolic of celebrating, or commemorating, someone’s life, rather than mourning their death.  The color scheme is very similar to that of their buildings: Bright, bold colors with exotic qualities.  When you combine each of these “ingredients” that make Old San Juan, you have one of the brightest, most colorfully extravagant cities in the world.  

The rainbow buildings + the Spanish architectural styles + the mix of traditional and contemporary styles + the baby blue skies + the fluffy white clouds + the teal ocean + the surrounding green trees + the colorful plants + the cobblestone roads + the cast-iron doors + the birds and wildlife + the people who call it their home = OLD SAN JUAN (Viejo San Juan)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Zipping Our Time Away!

Tuesday May 22, 2012

What a GREAT day!  It’s not just the fact that we got to go zip lining in the rain forest tree canopy at La Marquesa Forest Park in Guaynabo Puerto Rico – it’s everything that surrounds us.

Let’s start with the zip lining.   
Again, there was an even split for those of us who have been zip lining before and those that haven’t.  If you aren’t familiar with what a zip line is this is where there are platforms high in the tree canopy and the trees are connected by stretches of cable.  Once you are fully geared up in a harness, helmet, caribeaners, pulleys and gloves, you are set to go… well, of course only after listening to the safety instructions!  
Once in gear, we hiked up the the first platform which was a steep ascent, especially in the heat and weighed down by the gear, but we didn’t let that get us down.  After waiting for our turn, one-by-one we went down the first line. For me, it was absolutely exhilarating! 

There were so many mixed emotions swirling around us.  Excitement.  Fear.  Euphoria. Nervousness. Composure.  Stress.  Relief.  Pride.  Gratification.  Happiness.  It was wonderful to see the level of confidence (and fun factor) increase as the new-to-this-folks became more comfortable with each run down a line.  Also it was very impressive witnessing those who pushed through the fear and discomfort to prove to themselves that they COULD face down their fear.  Especially heartwarming was watching the students support each other with kind and encouraging words – the level of compassion they showed each other had a profound effect.  This class and all its lessons and experiences have brought the students so much closer and they share a bond that is unique to the seven of them. This bond was seen throughout the evening as we went out to the ocean, ate dinner together and then all went for a night swim in the pool.  Amidst all the horsing around and playing, you could see the kids watching out for each other.  

It was a great day and it is a wonderful journey we are taking together.  It’s hard to believe how quickly the week is passing.  In the next couple of days we have lined up cave tubing, visiting Old San Juan (this is to explore all the old forts and go to the Butterfly People Cafe) and kayaking in Bioluminescence Bay.  I suspect that time is going to continue to fly by... =o) 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Our First days in Puerto Rico

Why hello there.  This is Carmela.  For those who follow our blog but don’t know me personally, I am neither one of the students, nor am I one of the staff at the Robert J. Lister Academy; nonetheless I love this school and the work they are doing!  As suspected, I am not only connected and bonded to the school because Bryan, the teacher of this Sustainable Ed class also happens to be my husband, but am drawn to the school because of the students.  Over the course of the year I have watched these students work hard, struggle, fall down (both literally and figuratively), pick themselves up (again both literally and figuratively), support each other when rising seemed too difficult on their own and finally achieve their goal… and here we are, in beautiful Puerto Rico!  We did it!

I suppose if we were to measure the impact of this experience by the number of laughs, the number of bruises and the level of us getting dirty … then I would say, this experience has been beyond HUGE (and it’s only been 3 days)!

Just to give a sampling of what we’ve been doing to keep us busy in our short time here, we:
  • -          Explored in and around the amazing Cueva Clara (a beautiful cave in Del Rio Camuy)
  • -          Stepped back in time hundreds of years at the Parque Ceremonial Indigena de Caguana (a sacred meeting place of the original inhabitants of Puerto Rico)
  • -          Learned about and saw the world’s largest single dish radio telescope at the Arecibo Observatory
  • -          Went horseback riding at Hacienda Carabali Ranch – a sprawling 600 acres of diverse terrain at the base of El Yunque National Rain Forrest.  Where we walked, trotted, cantered and some of us even galloped the horses – which was all the more impressive as at least half of the group had never been on a horse before.  A personal favorite was getting a chance to ride ahead and turn around to watch the rest of the group trot/canter up the path with each rider wearing the same ‘Holy smokes I’m running a horse!’-perma-grin-expression on their faces.  It was spectacular!  As an added bonus we rode to a river site and dismounted for half an hour to play in the water and have our faces painted with the mineral clay from the river banks.
  • -          Finally, we explored the El Yunque rain forest where highlights included seeing the Cascada La Coca waterfall, climbing the stairs of the Yokahu Tower to see breath-taking views from the top and lastly going extreme-hand-over–foot hiking into the woods with our amazing guide, Mario, to a remote waterfall .  Admittedly, I had not intended to see the falls up close and personal, but after a spectacularly graceless slip into the water, I joined the others and am really grateful I got drawn into the fun.
For years Bryan has talked about the power of travelling with students and I thought I understood what he meant when he shared his experiences and stories.  It wasn’t until now that I realized I had no idea or true appreciation for the profound impact this kind of experiential learning can have.  As if I wasn’t already impressed with the students (and staff – Bryan and Ellen rock!) with everything they did to get here, seeing the students experience everything that is new, inspiring, sometimes scary and awe-inducing AND being part of it with them, is life changing.  I am looking forward to the adventures that lie ahead and can’t wait to see even more growth in the days to follow.  Here’s to embracing the mantra: ‘Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.’