Upon returning from a school trip to Puerto Rico in February, Spanish teacher Jessie Morgan received an email from one of her high school students who wrote: “I loved the 2016 Puerto Rico trip. The weather was beautiful, the people were amazing, and the food was outstanding. I met so many more friends and Puerto Ricans on the trip. My Spanish definitely improved. I would 100% definitely go back and see everything.”
Those sentiments were echoed by high school junior Fallon Parmelee another of the 31 Shaker High School students who traveled to Puerto Rico during the week of February break and was charmed by the small Caribbean island, which is a U.S. territory.
“I loved Puerto Rico,” she said. “We visited Old San Juan, a beautiful and authentic old city with narrow cobblestone streets, colorful buildings and bridges. People were everywhere, and everybody was friendly. The atmosphere was very welcoming.”
Shaker High School’s Foreign Language Department organizes school trips, exchanges, and two-week home stays that immerse students in the languages they are studying and provides them opportunities to learn more about the culture of countries where those languages are spoken. Click here to view photos of the trip.
“The Puerto Rican people we met during the trip were excited to hear that our kids were there to learn Spanish,” Morgan said. “While many of them speak English, once we explained the purpose of our trip they were very eager to have us speak their language.”
A world view
Foreign Language Supervisor Galina Kats, who served as a chaperone, said these types of trips allow students to experience culture first hand and appreciate life from different perspectives.
One of the scheduled activities, a visit to an under-resourced elementary school made a lasting impression on students and chaperones alike. The Shaker students were greeted with music performed by the school’s chorus, and later visited classrooms and played games with the young students.
“We walked around to the different classrooms and all the children would start talking to us in Spanish, asking us questions,” Parmelee said. “They really made us use our Spanish skills because most of them are just learning English. They all wanted to take pictures with us. It was really neat having an opportunity to talk with the children.”
The children who attend the elementary school live in housing projects nearby. “The teachers and principal told us a little bit about the living conditions and the home life these children experience,” Kats said. “The teachers are trying to support and help the children as best they can. Sometimes school is the only place they eat a meal or connect with a caring adult.”
Morgan shared an especially touching story. “One little girl walked out with one of our girls hugging her the entire way; she didn’t want her to leave, and my student didn’t want to go. It was very special.”
Kats reflected, “Many times when we have an exchange, I say to students, and I believe, that you see the world and you see different cultures and you interact with different people and you develop a perspective that is absolutely invaluable. Like our visit to a school that has very few resources compared to ours. It makes you recognize all that we have and that we take for granted. It makes a powerful impact.”
Language, history, science all part of the learning experience
During the trip, Shaker students visited many famous landmarks in Puerto Rico including: El Yunque, the only tropical rain forest in the U.S.; Bioluminescent Bay where the water’s luminescence is triggered by oceanic plankton that when physically disturbed, causes the water to illuminate at night; Camuy Caves home to the Coqui frog, a species endemic to Puerto Rico that makes a unique sound at night; and the Old San Juan Fort, a national historic site.
“We covered a lot of ground during this trip, from language and science to history and architecture,” Morgan said. “It’s an educational experience that for many students ignites a lifetime interest in travel and culture.”