A day after graduation, 19 recent ninth grade graduates boarded a plane for an unforgettable weeklong trip to Puerto Rico. In addition to exploring the island and immersing themselves in the local culture and language, the students spent several days helping a family rebuild their house, which was destroyed by Hurricane Maria in Sept. 2017.
The group landed in San Juan and learned about the city’s vibrant past as one of the oldest European cities in North America. Their next stop was Villa del Rio, a mountain town one and a half hours away. As they left the main city and headed towards the countryside, students noticed that the effects of the hurricane, such as debris, downed signs and billboards, are still very much present two years after the devastating event. Upon arriving at their destination, a local leader and community organizer introduced the students to the hurricane relief work projects, which focus on rebuilding the homes of families that were severely damaged by the high winds and flooding.
The students met Angel and Maria, the couple whose house they were going to rebuild. “With tears in their eyes, they told the story of the hurricane and how scary it was,” said Liz Pepe, Upper School Spanish teacher who co-chaperoned the trip with Barbara Latimer, an Upper School math teacher.
For the next few days, the students worked diligently alongside the family to dig holes, mix cement and put up rebar. “They were such incredibly hard workers. I was so proud of them,” said Ms. Pepe.
At their farewell dinner with Angel and Maria, ninth grader Niko Cadoret was so moved by his experience that he prepared a speech in Spanish for the family.
“I told them that they were the strongest people I had ever met,” said Niko. “They lost everything in an instant, yet they were optimistic and thankful for whatever they had. As we were leaving, they said, ‘My house is your house.’ I learned so much about resilience and generosity from them.”
In addition to their time at Villa del Rio, the students hiked in the El Yunque Rainforest and kayaked in the Bioluminescent Bay of Fajardo.
“I had an amazing time. It was a last hurrah with my classmates, a trip of a lifetime,” said Niko.
Caption: Students who participated in the trip include Andrew Almeida, Alex Almeida, Caroline Blouin, Margaret Boeschenstein, Nikolas Cadoret, Anthony Crossman, Jack DeGulis, Lindsey Ferretti, Ellie Hanson, Logan Johnson, Kyle Latimer, Daniela Soto, Gigi Morgan, Reed Parmelee, Noah Rizvi, Dylan Seth, Gwen Thompson, Ella Zea and Mason Zea.