2017 Upper School Intersession Trips

Last updated: Monday, March 27, 10:00 am. See below for photos and updates! It was another great year for Intersessions, as the blog posts and photos below will attest. Thanks to the students and trip leaders who wrote in throughout the week to allow those of us at home to get a window into their amazing experiences.

SSFS students learn about the world by being in the world. Intersession is an important component of the emphasis on hands-on, experiential learning at SSFS. It is a one- to two-week period in the spring in which all Upper School students and faculty participate in special projects locally, nationally, or abroad. Trips might involve community service, outdoor education, arts activities, scientific exploration, cultural and language immersion, historical or informational trips, or a combination of the above. All Upper School students are required to participate each year, and all students participate in at least one service intersession during their four years of high school.  You can see full descriptions of the 2016-17 trips (listed below) here. (The * denotes a service intersession.)

  • Art & Dissonance
  • Food for Thought *
  • Head Start *
  • Historical Maryland *
  • Iron Chef
  • Ireland: Exploring the Emerald Isle
  • Italy: Milan, Venice, and Rome
  • Joshua Tree: Service and Adventure *
  • Mexico: Yucatan Peninsula
  • San Francisco & Big Sur
  • Southwest Service *
  • Spain
  • West Virginia Service *

Students and faculty leaders send blog updates from their trips throughout the Intersession week (March 20-24, or later for trips that extend into spring break). These updates are posted daily on this page throughout the week, in reverse chronological order. Click on thumbnails for larger versions of images; parents, students, and faculty of SSFS may also find and download photos on Vidigami.com. We always look forward to hearing about the amazing and transformative educational adventures of the students during the week.

March 27

Several more Intersession updates and wrap-ups came in over the weekend. It sounds like it was a busy, wonderful week for all our groups!

Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula (Day 7: March 24)
By Eduardo Polon
The arch of our itinerary was designed so that our culminating experiences in Mexico would be our most adventurous, combining a jungle tour with the Tulum ruins, ziplining, rappelling into cenotes, and snorkeling underground rivers. Fittingly, we were picked up by a company cleverly named “alltournative,” committed to providing private expeditions off the beaten path.

Today began with an awakening in the form of an off-road bumpy and fun ride into the jungle on an elevated, all-terrain Mercedes Unimog. Once arrived to our destination, the next group mission would be a descent into two more breathtaking cenotes: Yaxmuul (Green Hills) and Nohch Nah Chich (Great Cave of Swallows). In distinctly dramatic ways, we rappelled into the former and zip-lined directly into the latter. In total, we did five zip lines high above and through the jungle canopy, with the exception of the one that descended into the aforementioned cave and ended with a punctuating splash. Additionally, we snorkeled through a crystalline portion of San Actum, the world’s longest underground river system, guided by flashlights that, like mini lighthouses, guided us safely through the otherwise blackened caverns. Furthermore, we took part in a moving Mayan purification ceremony, led by a Yaxmuul elder who blessed our group.

Following another delicious lunch and short ride along the peninsula’s Caribbean coastline, the afternoon was spent among the ruins of the once mercantile center of Tulum, perhaps the most important Mayan city state in the post-classical era (1200-1492). Tulum’s footprint, at cliff’s edge, and accented with palm trees, is as impressive as it is picturesque.

Back by 4:00 pm, the opportunity to shop one last time, in small groups, along Playa del Carmen’s Fifth Avenue, was made available, ahead of dinner. Feeling the accumulating toll of the week’s activities, some chose to use the two hours to rest at the hotel while others jumped at the chance to shop until they dropped. In the end, everyone seemed pleased with his or her choice, and our last dinner together was a festive and perfect time to toast our faithful guide, Luis, for all his care and attention. With one final Caribbean sunset, our penultimate day came to a lovely end.

NOTE: As Saturday, March 25th, will be our travel day home, today’s entry, dated March 24th, will serve as our intersession’s final submission. We hope this past week’s seven daily blog posts have helped bridge our shared experience with all those back home.

Ireland (final wrap-up with updates from the week):

Hello from the Emerald Isle!  We have been enjoying ourselves so much here in beautiful, welcoming Ireland that we have not had time to catch our breath and tell you all about it!  Hopefully you have seen the pictures on our Vidigami page and I am sure that the students have been keeping you posted on our travels.

We arrived in Dublin on St. Paddy’s Day and the airport was festooned with balloons. We connected with our friendly, funny and fabulous driver, Frank, and got on the road to Slane.  All of us were instantly captivated by the beauty of this country – even in grey rain and clouds the green shines through!  On top of that, the smiles and generosity of the Irish people keep our hearts warm.  It is not an overstatement to say that every single person we have met here has been so welcoming and hospitable – from our hosts at the hostels, to the proprietors of the eating establishments, to our drivers and tour guides, and even to the people in the street who give us directions when we are “a wee bit” turned around.  This truly is a nation of gracious people.

The hostel at Slane was a great place to relax and bond together before taking off for Belfast.  Gemma – the hostess at Slane – loved the kids and wants us all to return soon. We attended the village St. Patrick’s Day parade where we saw everything from Umpa Loompas to St. Patrick to Chinese dragon dancers and even an appearance by Donald Trump building the wall on a float. Dinner that evening was made by the guys while carefully supervised by Cathy. Amazing what you can accomplish with one knife making salad and spaghetti.

Saturday we were off to Newgrange and the Hill of Tara. First of course was the matter of breakfast and we filled the local Slane Patisserie which shocked and thrilled the locals.  I don’t think they will ever forget 19 people for breakfast!  I will let you read about Newgrange and Hill of Tara – but suffice to say we all felt a mystical connection with the ancient peoples of Ireland. Newgrange is an engineering marvel and again we lucked out (yes – the luck of the Irish) with a marvelous story-telling guide. At the Hill of Tara, the students climbed and ran and walked around the ancient seat of power of some of the Celtic kings –and got very muddy as well.  Luckily we clean up well and dinner that night was at The Conyngham Arms Hotel in Slane –  a three course meal in a lovely private room called the Library.

The next morning, we rose, said goodbye to Slane and took off for the big city of Belfast. Traveling is a joy with our driver, Frank who is patient, witty, clever, friendly and best of all, seems to know everyone in Ireland.  We truly would not have been able to do this without his help and laughter.

Arriving in Belfast we went straight to the number one tourist attraction – The Titanic Belfast Museum. State of the art museum technology tells the story of the building of old Belfast, the Titanic, and the voyage and tragic end of the luxury liner, as well as the discovery of the wreckage. A few interesting tidbits were picked up as we made our way through the museum; apparently the Titanic wreckage still appears to have just hit the ocean floor. Due to the lack of any ocean current at the depth to where the titanic fell, the sand that was stirred by the Titanic’s landing has yet to settle. This is also the reason why the items in the debris field surrounding the Titanic have not been buried, and are still available for people to explore. One other interesting story was that of two passengers who, after jumping from the Titanic, were met halfway through the water by a giant air bubble that had been released by the sinking ship. They were then carried to the surface by this bubble, and survived their jump. The woman who told this story called it “the best lottery in the world.” The group then enjoyed Afternoon Tea at the base of the “Grand Staircase.”  A true High Tea just as the passengers would have enjoyed, with cakes and sandwiches and tea galore, all accompanied by a live band. After checking in to the Youth Hostel, we went out in search of dinner which was arranged by another gregarious Irishman named Alan who runs the café at the hostel and acted as our unofficial travel agent in Belfast. After getting turned around and exploring various streets, Elizabeth called the restaurant – McHughs – and the manager Steven talked us in, even to the extent of standing in the middle of the street to wave us down. Again, the kindness of the Irish never fails. By the way, be assured that no one is going hungry on this trip.

Monday morning found us at the Friends’ School Lisburn, a sister school just outside of Belfast. We arrived right as they were gathering for an all school assembly. The school is stunning, with entire buildings dedicated to music, visual art, technology and more. Students were paired together with juniors from the school, and attended classes with them after being given private tours of the lovely campus. Everyone seemed to make friends quickly, immediately exchanging phone numbers and Instagram profiles to keep in touch with our Irish sister school. Our Jewish students on the trip also had an interesting experience when they were taken to a history class focusing on Nazi Germany. Due to the lack of Jewish people at the school, and in Northern Ireland in general, the students and teachers alike were interested to hear the stories of the ancestors of our Jewish students who, lived through the holocaust, some even having been in the main concentration camps such as Auschwitz.

Monday afternoon we went to Stormont, the Northern Ireland Assembly (Parliament), where we heard the history of the building and how the Assembly works in action. The students sat in the House of Commons before hearing speakers about the Peace and Reconciliation process, including members of the Assembly.  The students were particularly intrigued and excited by one member, Clare Bailey of the Green Party, and she spent time with the kids after the meeting. She was equally impressed with us and we were with her!

By Tuesday we were ready to try a bit of Irish dancing and it was undoubtedly one of the highlights of our trip.  The kids quickly lost all inhibition and took on the challenge with zest. Wait until you see the video! We then took off for a “peace cab” tour of Belfast with all of us in one “peace bus.”  The tour focuses on the history of the Troubles between Catholics and Protestants which is more properly called the Troubles between loyalists and nationalists.  The Irish- both north and south – repeatedly reminded us that this was not a religious conflict, but a political one that happened to reflect religious divides. We were all particularly impressed and moved by the peace murals on the walls that were built to separate people and now hold art that tries to bring people together. A lesson for today, certainly.  After the tour we had lunch at Longs where the students sampled fish and chips.  While there we helped celebrate the 103rd Birthday of a customer who had been coming to Longs for 90 years straight! Again, the proprietor was a gregarious Irishman who joked with our students.  Finally, the students had a “wee bit” of time to explore Belfast on their own and sample its delights – mostly food and shopping it appears!  That evening we attended an outstanding Spring Music Concert by the Lisburn School held in the historic Ulster hall. We were simply amazed by the extensive music program of Lisburn Friends, from a full orchestra, to a folk choir, rock band, and amazing singers and musicians and so much more.

And then – GAME OF THRONES TOUR!  Accompanied by our fabulous, witty and knowledgeable guide, Derrick, we explored the natural, breathtaking beauty of the Irish coast, much of which have been used as backdrops for the popular show, Game of Thrones. The operative word of the day was “wow” which was our first reaction every time we climbed a hill and came upon the stunning landscape of the coast.  We challenged ourselves over the Rope Bridge at Carrick a Rede and then climbed and scrambled upon the Giants Causeway, finally stopping at the iconic Dark Hedges where the kids donned cloaks and wielded swords and shields to feel a part of the Thrones.

Thursday we were up and out early to drive across the country to the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher. Once again several of your students stepped out of their comfort zones and climbed upon a horse to explore the wonders of the Burren. We also explored the Cave at Doolin to see the third largest stalactite in the world. Despite some sore behinds, we all loved the experience.

Friday we enjoyed perhaps the most majestic views of the country at the Cliffs of Moher, the windswept but sunny cliffs that have inspired and thrilled so many over the past 1000s of years. We all agreed that we could have spent several hours there taking fantastic photos and communing with such a powerful natural spirit.  After leaving the Cliffs, we moved on to Bunratty castle and Folk Village which introduced us to the medieval life of an Irish castle and the history of Irish village life. We also did our best to boost the Irish economy – as one student said, we are “the Marshall Plan of Ireland.”  A brief stop at the Rock of Cashel found us just missing the closing time, but we took pictures from the outside and again the students enjoyed climbing the rocks, taking photos and breathing in the fresh air of Ireland. We all agreed it was good to leave something to see on the next trip – and everyone wants to come back here one day!

Today we are off to Dublin – our final day. Hard to believe as we have all enjoyed the magic, the beauty, the kindness, the warmth and the joy of this marvelous country and people. The kids have bonded and laughed and supported each other in a spectacular way and Cathy and I hate to see it end! Thanks you so much for trusting us with your children – we have enjoyed and relished our time with them.

Historical Maryland (from Friday, March 24):
By David Martchek: Today we went to Woodlawn Manor, and I went with a couple people down to the trials to collect “treasure” / trash. There was a lot of stuff there, old car parts cans and even shoes. It was interesting looking at the old bags and figuring out the dates and what a lot of the stuff was. The whole side of the hill was just trash, a little sad but that’s how people threw thing away back then. After I came back we went into the barn and did a trip throughout history and explored how the slave laws affected people from being free.

Spain
A few photos came in over the weekend from Barcelona, Spain and the Gaudi Cathedral:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 24, 2017

Southwest Service
By Miriam Rock
For our final update, there’s so much to share! After buying souvenirs at Hubbell, we continue to camp on Nutria Lakes, an absolutely gorgeous campsite. The following day, we met Ken Seowtewa, a Zuni artist who has held a variety of roles in his tribe. Ken invited us into his home after showing us the old Zuni mission, a 400 year old church that fell into disrepair after Ken and his father, Alex Seowtewa, spent 30 years painting a mural depicting Zuni Kachinas on its walls. Ken showed us a variety of clips of the murals and shared his own and his family’s art and history before sharing lunch and Zuni salt with us.

After bidding Ken farewell, we drove through an expected snowstorm to Pie Town to eat a variety of truly delicious pies. We then travelled to Bosquicito to camp and met with a man who rescued birds of prey. He brought with him a Peregrine Falcon whom we learned about and got to hold!

We’re now heading towards Albuquerque where we will be doing two final service projects, one at Sevilleta Wildlife Refuge and the other at our campgrounds for the night, Coronado. Tomorrow, after picking up breakfast burritos, we’ll board flight 2436, set to land at BWI at 4:05pm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food For Thought
From Haoran Zhu: Wow! It is FRIDAY, the last day of Food for Thought. Each day, the bond between us increased and got strengthened. We headed to the inner city of Baltimore, an area that used to be ranked #7 in poverty. When our van was parked near a fence, we could already feel a bit uncomfortable about the environment around us. As we entered Paul’s Place, an social service organization, the guide introduced herself and gave us an educational tour inside the building. While she talked about the construction history & development of Paul’s Place, she also asked thoughtful questions to get us engaged. She was very picky on me especially when I answered her questions in an interesting way, but I did not feel bothered. After finishing the tour, she led us to the tables in the dining room. The staff handed each one of us books & dictionaries, and we were quite confused at first, but there was one gentleman named William who was so COOL and FUNNY! He started singing “Pass the Love” as each one of us either read a portion or picked a word to explain the reasoning. I picked the word, “innovation,” and gave a short speech about it. Like how we are going to innovate to help solve poverty. Suddenly, William started praising me as the next POTUS, and he would vote for me in the next 2 to 3 decades. That ritual felt to me a sense of community (part of the Quaker SPICES) and love. Then our group divided into two. I was in the dining crew again and some others were personal shoppers for clients. I cleaned off the table as they finished, and smiled to make them feel comfortable with respect and dignity. The other group upstairs served as customer service and gave them their fashion advice. For lunch, we had pizza and finished the day with reflection/feedback. Overall, I enjoyed Food for Thought and would like to thank Nancy O’Leary and Frances Markowitz for their hard work & preparedness for this trip.

From Nicole Malow: Today we served at Paul’s Place, an Episcopal organization devoted to serving its community in Baltimore, Maryland since 1945. Paul’s Place provides guests living in poverty with food, clothing, technology, mentoring, training, guidance, and child care services in order to open up doors for all their guests. Their main mission is to serve all their guests with dignity and respect. In order to fulfill this mission, volunteers were instructed to smile and call guests by their names. We were divided into two groups that worked in the dining hall and the clothing store. The first group consisted of 7 students who greeted guests, served food, poured drinks, cleaned tables, and washed dishes. Some of the people we served had cancer and were given special assistance. The second group consisted of 6 students who assisted shoppers, organized clothes, and collected hangers. Some students shopped alongside guests and were surprised by the guests’ incredible fashion sense.

Overall, the experience changed our perspectives of people in poverty. By working personally alongside those in need, we broke stereotypes about poverty and were able to see the kindness and diversity of everyone in need. Most guests were very polite and even gave us hugs out of the joy they had for our service. We hope that we made a difference in the lives of the people we served today by giving them the feelings of dignity that they need for success.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula (Day 6: March 23)
By Eduardo Polon

Our Mexican journey, a counterclockwise circuit of the Yucatan Peninsula, continued two hours eastward today. Saying goodbye to the state of Yucatán, we crossed into Quintana Roo and into a new timezone (1 hour behind EST), on route to our Caribbean coastal destination: Playa del Carmen.

Our accommodations, Casa de las Flores, is a colorful, charming, and aptly-named two-story hotel, with a traditional interior Spanish courtyard and soaking pool, surrounded by lush tropical gardens, and whose rooms are detailed with Talavera ceramic, floral, hand-painted sinks. After dropping off our luggage, we took a walking reconnaissance tour along the mile-long Fifth Avenue shopping district, and settled in for another delectable and authentic lunch near the boardwalk’s end.

After lunch, we headed to Playa del Carmen, ranked consistently among the world’s finest beaches. From its powder-like white sands to the Caribbean Sea’s multiple shades of azure, Playa del Carmen has an intoxicating allure. With the Sirens of the sea and stores calling, we decided to divide and conquer into three groups, each headed by an adult (i.e., Eduardo, Claire, and our week’s faithful guide, Luis). With some desiring more beach time than others, our plan seemed to satisfy everyone’s respective itch.

Still feeling the effects of our two days of community service in Yaxunah, and with quite a culminating adventure awaiting us tomorrow in and around the ruins of Tulum, today provided some welcome recovery time that culminated in a lovely sunset dinner together.

NOTE: As Saturday, March 25th, will be our travel day home, today’s entry will serve as our penultimate submission, with our final blog post dated March 24.

Historical Maryland (Day 4)
Jojo Briand writes: On the fourth day of historical Maryland, we went to Robinson Nature Center and were given shovels, rakes, and trowels to dig out some invasive (and very thorny) species like honeysuckle vines, a very prickly and strong red vines that you had to pull out the roots completely, and weeds. We also toured the actual nature center during breaks even though it was mostly made for little kids to explore. The people organizing the volunteer work were very kind to provide us with water and snacks to keep us motivated. We worked for about two and a half hours in total and even though several of us were scratched by some of the thorns, it was a satisfying day of work an we were glad to help.

Daniel Hooks writes: Today we volunteered at the Robinson’s nature center. We were tasked with the extermination of three types of evasive plants, two vines, and a tree-like plant. We used shovels and clippers to rip and tear the evasive plants from those trying to thrive in the area. The evasive plants were then taken to the landfill where experts would compost the plants in a complicated composter.

Joshua Tree
By Julie Borsetti
Today, our final day, we climbed at the Echo Rock area. The guides set up one easier area and one more challenging area for the students to tackle. Everyone challenged themselves and we all cheered each other on and celebrated each other’s victories. After lunch we enjoyed showers and shopping at the Coyote Corner Shop and the Joshua Tree Visitors Center. Then, we had a celebratory dinner at Pappy and Harriets, a saloon style restaurant set in an eccentric little Wild West movie set town. We were even lucky enough to catch some local bands playing on stage! Our final campfire Meeting for Worship was bittersweet, as many expressed a mixture of thanks for a wonderful trip, and sadness that our time together is nearing an end. It’s been a truly rewarding experience! Looking forward to returning to our family and friends tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 23, 2017

San Francisco/Big Sur
By Jediael Peterson

Welcome to San Fran! We’ve had so much fun that it feels like we’ve been here for weeks when in reality, we’ve only been here for four days.

On arrival, we drove from San Jose to San Fran to our gorgeous top of the hill Fort Mason hostel. We were immediately enthralled by the view of the bay (the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Angel Island etc.).

On our first day, we went to Muir Woods and hiked into the century old Red Woods. After hiking, we had lunch at the beach and drove around the Golden Gate Bridge.

The next day we walked around angel island taking pictures of abandoned buildings and beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge. We walked for seven miles around the ENTIRE island. Later on, our award winning chefs, Olivia, Katie, Ioie, Maya, and Taylor, made us pasta and garlic bread with some ice cream cake from Olivia and Katie.

On Tuesday, we went on a boat ride to Alcatraz and did an audio tour around the prison. Maya, our professional photographer, held a photo shoot with our dancer, Katie, in one of the buildings. As we waited for our boat we talked about the different inmates and how it felt to be locked up for even 2 weeks.

Later that night, we had dinner in China town for our last night in San Francisco and we were all amazed by the food that we had. In the words of ioie, “we were fed.” the owner, or who I assume is the owner, felt like a cool grandma who kept piling food on our table until we couldn’t move. We took the cable car back to our stop where some of us got to hang on the ledge of the car.

Now, we’re going on our second half of the trip to Monterey but San Francisco is forever engrained in or memory as a city with great views and even better food.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9th Grade Trip – Florida
By Karen Cumberbatch
Currently we are breaking camp and preparing to engage in the final activities of the trip. Today will be spent at Gator Park looking for alligators in the Everglades and observing some of the other animals of the region. The most exciting part of the trip will be the fan boat ride. If you haven’t experienced a fan boat at high-speeds, trust me it is quite a thrill (and very windy).

The parade of native animals continued yesterday with some fantastic sightings. Students saw an array of beautiful and colorful fish on the coral reefs off the coast of Key West. Most of the students snorkeled and a few observed from the edge of the boat. On the way back we saw a sea turtle swimming freely in the open water and a group of about seven dolphins traveling together. (Not quite a pod which I learned is approximately 12, but almost.) The beauty of seeing these animals in their native habitat was only marred slightly by a floating potato chip bag. This reminded us of the service work we did in the mangroves. The amount of trash that we collected in this area was extraordinary. And, there was so much more that needed to be done. All of the items which we think are “lost” at sea find their way to places like this and accumulate in hideous ways.

Happily, we also experienced the beauty of the mangroves during our kayaking. Students were able to kayak into a sheltered section of the mangroves; experiencing the cool shaded area and ducking low hanging (or perhaps high hanging) roots. During kayaking, we also saw jellyfish and lots and lots of seagrass which feeds and hides many native fishes in the area.

It has been a glorious trip and the students have had a lot of fun bonding, hanging out, and engaging with peers they may not have spent time with previously. But, all good things must come to an end and some of the students (and chaperones) are now looking forward to sleeping in their own beds. We will see you upon our return soon.

 

 

 

 

 

From Josh and Teek’s group: 
Below is a group picture in front of the trash all three 9th grade groups pulled out from the shoreline on No Name Key. No Name is one of only a handful of keys where the endangered key deer lives. The refuge staff and locals who saw us were thankful for the students’ hard work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Historical Maryland, Day 3:

By Shields Riggs Jr: Today our big group was broken up into two teams one who would mulch and one who would pick up sticks. Our group was the mulching group. We were assigned to mulch around all the trees on Solomons Island Maritime Museum. We worked hard to mulch the assigned areas and we did so for about two and a half hours. Then we went to the Solomon’s Island lighthouse. We saw the beautiful view from the top of the light house. After we left the Maritime Museum we were rewarded with a exquisite lunch at Kingfishers.

By Jeremy Mullaney: Today we went to the Solomon Island lighthouse, which was 40 minutes away. While there we gathered sticks and pinecones fallen from trees. We also got to see the cool wildlife within the Solomon museum, such as fish and otters. To top it all off we also got to go up into the lighthouse, the key monument.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula (Day 5: March 22)
By Eduardo Polon
Unbeknownst to us, Day 5 would prove to be our favorite to date on our wonderful tour of the Yucatan Peninsula. It was by far the least flashy assemblage of activities on our itinerary, but perhaps the most rewarding.

Returning to the Mayan hamlet of Yaxunah, we resumed our beautification service projects. Today’s task: paint the facades of three homes along the same street. Divided into three teams, each group was assigned a green base and complementary trim color, along with brushes, rollers and a shared ladder. It was really gratifying to see our hard work translate into such dramatic improvement and generate wide smiles across the faces of the grateful homeowners. It was equally rewarding to return to the homes of those same families as the day before for another delicious and specially-prepared homemade lunch.

Afterwards, and to compensate for the extreme afternoon heat, a tactical decision was made to alter plans and take cover under the community center’s palapa to watch the apropos Apocalipto, a fictionalized Hollywood action-adventure shot entirely in Mayateco, the native tongue of our hosts. By movie’s end, and with reduced temperatures, we gathered in the town’s square at sunset to partake in Mayan games with local children. It was so nice to spend time together laughing and celebrating together. Culturally, it was a beautiful shared experience!

If that weren’t special enough, we were informed that we would be the guests of honor this evening for a farewell dinner, in recognition of our contributions to Yaxunah. Seated so that our group was interspersed with our hosts, demanding a hodgepodge combination of English, Spanish and Mayateco, the evening began with Erik, our service coordinator, making a moving toast that inspired several from our group to do the same. In the end, hugs went all around and more than a few tears shed, as our lives were tattooed by our shared experiences these past two days with the big-hearted people of this special community, thanks, in large part, to our new friends Rolando, Thibault, Montserrat, Erik, Doñas Daisy and Teodora, Víctor, Josué, Martín, and all the young children of Yaxunah.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Italy
We received some stunning photos of the scenery experienced on the Italy intersession:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 22, 2017

West Virginia Service
Photos from West Virginia Service Trip:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big Sur-San Francisco
Photos from Alcatraz Island and Muir Woods National Monument

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joshua Tree
3:45 pm – Just received more photos from the Joshua Tree intersession!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Southwest Service

Yesterday, after bidding farewell to the ponderosa pines at our campsite, we crossed the continental divide, the New Mexico-Arizona border and then entered into Navajo Nation to meet Irene Notah, a Navajo elder and educator. Before getting down to work, we met Irene’s sons and daughter, son-in-law, her five grandchildren, five dogs and four puppies. We split into two groups for our service, one group constructed a bridge from one part of Irene’s property to another while the other group cleared invasive species from a large field adjacent to the home of Mark and Antoinette (Irene’s son-in-law and daughter). Intermixed with out service, we learned about Navajo culture: Irene showed us a variety of traditional woven dresses, rugs and jewelry, Mark demonstrated pottery and how he incorporated culture symbols into his work and, most deliciously, Antoinette taught us how to make and eat fry-bread. We ate Navajo tacos with the family before ending the night with our customary game and song filled campfire.

The following day, Irene brought us to St Michael’s Association for Special Education, a school that supports Navajo students for whom public schools cannot provide sufficient accommodations. There, we spent the day working to repair the school’s large community garden – we prepped soil for planting, cleared brush, dug trenches around fruit trees and repainted hydrants.

After this, we’re heading to Hubbell Trading Post before camping near Zuni. We’ll hopefully update you soon on the continuation of this truly wonderful trip!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food for Thought

From Maeve: On the third day of our intersession trip, we visited Capital Area Food Bank, one of the largest food banks in the region, which works to assure that families receive the food that they need. Capital Area attracts numerous donators who give anything from canned goods to feminine hygiene products. Volunteers, like us, play an extremely important role in working to help the pressing issue of hunger and food insecurity, as without volunteers, organizations like these could not make nearly as big of a difference. We completed around three hours of service work while we were at Capital Hill, working in the back to sort the food into separate bins before we packed the food into individual boxes. The work we did here differed greatly from our service at Shepherd’s Table and Martha’s Outfitters, as we were not directly helping people by serving them a hot lunch or helping them purchase clothes. This service, while equally as important, was more of a behind the scenes view of the work that goes into feeding adults and children in need. We spent an hour unpacking a large tower of boxes which held packaged food of all kinds, and sorting each item into big crates. We then spent another hour and a half separating the separate crates into even more specific categories to make the boxing process more efficient. The service was very hands on, and with the several pairs of hands hard at work, we breezed through our tasks, stepping back to observe our success. Our lengthy service revealed to us how much time and work goes into organizing the food and opened our eyes to how important community service truly is.

From Haoran: Food for Thought is not complete without delicious food and thoughtful reflection. For lunch, our group had a stuffed meal at El Andariego, Olney. Before getting there, we all have grumbling stomachs after 3-hour-nonstop labor at the Food Bank (without breakfast!!). Most of us ordered BIG ENTREES before our fast food tomorrow at Chipotle. Breezy (me), for example, ordered Cola De Logosta Con Camarones (a tremendous grilled lobster tail with Beef Fajita), and others also enjoyed their steaks/chickens except Eric who ordered a Rare NY Strip (he wanted to show off obviously). According to a scientific study, desserts can make people even happier after a satisfied entree. We ordered Fried Ice Creams and other sweet stuff to fulfill our desires. After getting back to campus, a Quaker circle is formed to reflect on today’s work. To me, reflection/feedback is very important, because it is a crucial element in business where you have to know what your clients feel and rethink what you did that day for improvement. We talked about the efficient management system of the food bank; some of us did not enjoy working behind-the-scene without meeting people. Overall, it was a great day to serve the people!

9th Grade Florida

1:30 pm – More photos from Florida just in! See the Vidigami album for more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Johanna Modak wrote in this morning in to say “I don’t have a good group shot of my own group yet, but am forwarding this on from Josh and Takisha who don’t have great service. I’ll try to get you one this morning!” Stay tuned! Karen Cumberbatch also uploaded more photos to Vidigami from the Sea Turtle Center, the beach, and more – several posted below, as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Historical Maryland

The group seems to be doing some great work and enjoying their time together!  Andrew Sun writes, “Hannah, Harry, Anna, Shaxon and I had the duty of clearing the wild grass from the garden, so the domestic plants can gain more nutrition. It was not a hard job, especially after Ben joined our group. We chatted about bad movies and Chinese politics, so time went by pretty fast.” Raquel Euceda Warner writes that in her group: “We shoveled the mulch into wheelbarrows, took it to a muddy path, and spread it to make the path walkable again. We went for a walk around the natural reserve and saw a blue heron. We went for lunch at the Olive Garden.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joshua Tree
By Julie Borsetti
Today we climbed at Playhouse rock. We learned that the type of rock found in Joshua Tree National Park is made of Quartz monzonite, a type of granite. Our guide started the day by talking about the techniques necessary for crack climbing such as hand jams, foot jams, and finger locks. He also explained the rating system for mountaineering and rock climbing. Everyone is getting more confident and comfortable on the rocks! While climbing, we also enjoy watching the local wildlife, mostly lizards! After a picnic lunch we headed to Pueblo’s Cabot Museum for the service portion of our day. We pulled weeds and enjoyed visiting their trading post. Back at camp, the dinner crew cooked some delicious vegetarian tacos for dinner, followed by another campfire meeting for worship time to reflect on the day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula (Day 4: March 21)
By Eduardo Polon
Our move from Mexico’s bustling city of Mérida to the remote Mayan community of Yaxunah was like stepping back in time. From busy, noisy and electric to quaint, quiet and manual, once again we found ourselves disconnected from the modern world’s creature comforts. Goodbye WiFi…again.

Unlike our earlier stay in the Mayan community of Ek Balam, Yaxunah hasn’t yet capitalized on turning itself into an ecotourist destination. As such, its charm remains in its as-yet-undisturbed purity and simplicity, right down to its centrally-located, community corn mill. That’s not to say Yaxunah isn’t without its potential and aspirations, evidenced in its recently completed, but very modest and proud museum. To the contrary, we were brought to Yaxunah to help this community take steps towards a more prosperous future. Committed to preserving its Mayan heritage, the citizens of Yaxunah are learning to work with volunteer organizations to beautify their town and showcase their way of life. One of the town’s beautification initiatives is to brighten its appeal with fresh coats of colorful paint…everywhere: home facades, rock walls, store fronts, etc. So, under a midday sun, two thirds of our group grabbed gloves and buckets of bright white paint and began painting primitive courtyard walls of loosely stacked stone separating homes from one another, while the remaining third of our group used pitchforks and shovels to break ground, roots, and Limestone, and then refill it with increasingly larger stacked stones, to create a natural water filter in the backyard “solar” of a neighboring home. Tough work, under tough conditions, made worth it by the grateful and gentle smiles of the elderly matriarchs whose homes and lives we helped to improve.

Still another reward was the chance to cool our cores in the town’s cenote. Unlike the two experienced prior on this trip, Yaxunah’s cenote has not been enhanced to facilitate and attract tourists. Like this town’s own secret garden, it is as it always has been: natural, camouflaged, and Eden-like. An added bonus was being joined by three curious, local teenage boys and spending some time together diving, swinging and splashing each other.

Refreshed and reinvigorated, we refueled too. Dividing into two groups, both lunch and dinner were spent in the same homes of two local families who participate in a co-op that works hand-in-hand with the volunteer services, as a way to pay back the helpers. What a special treat and honor to be welcomed into these homes, break bread (in the form of banana-leaf-wrapped tamales), and foster new friendships! In between meals, we partook in a fascinating Mayan hieroglyph lesson. Aware that the Maya occupied lands that spanned what are today Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras, it was interesting to learn that the language varied from region to region. Neither Nahuatl nor Quiche, the Mayan spoken in the Yucatan Peninsula is known as Mayatán or Mayateco, and dates back to 3114 BCE.

Following a well-earned night’s sleep, we look forward to returning to Yaxunah tomorrow to conclude our service projects and bid farewell to our newest friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Iron Chef – Tuesday, March 21
Day 2 was another amazing day filled with cooking and eating! The students began the day learning how to make pasta and marinara sauce from scratch from the wonderful instruction of Ryan and Dara of The Gathering Company. Students began by making their dough with flour and eggs. There were some egg disasters that turned into successful dough, making the experience that much more exciting. We also saw several unique interpretations of how to roll out dough; the students learned that it can be quite a workout. The marinara sauce was not without its challenges too as our burners shorted out, but the students persevered and took home their prepared sauce to cook at home. Overall, it was a fun, messy and delicous experience.
We then headed off campus to lunch at Sardi’s Fusion in Olney, MD. Sardi’s serves authentic Peruvian cuisine and the students tasted new and delicious flavors from the South American dishes. From ceviche, to empanadas, to the meat skewers, the students tasted pollo, carnitas, chorizo, and pescado dishes filled with flavors and spices of Peru. We ended the day tired and filled with delicious food. On to day 3!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SPAIN
Lyn Ostrov sends on several photos of students at Great Mosque Cordoba, in Madrid, and Al hambra:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Historical Maryland

Kevin Lentz: What we did today at Patuxent Wildlife Refuge was help out with maintenance in their display garden. We helped with mulching the path and pulling weeds, also with raking leaves to deposit in the compost bin. We also cleaned out the compost bin to allow for new materials to be composted and older materials to compost faster.

March 21, 2017

Many more updates came in last night, and continue to come in today!

9th Grade Florida
By Karen Cumberbatch

Thus far the day is going very well. It is lunchtime and the groups have finished their first activities of the day. All of the groups will participate in the same events over the course of the five days. Each of the groups either have been or will be kayaking, snorkeling, visiting a turtle hospital, doing service in the key deer reservation center, viewing alligators, doing service in one of the state parks and spending an evening in Key West. As a result, the pictures that you see will be a combination of the various groups’ experiences. All of the groups will end with a trip to Gator Park on Thursday to see more of the native amphibians as we make our way to the airport.

All of the students are doing well. We’ve had a few scrapes and insect bites, and one stomach bug, however everyone’s spirits remain high and the students seem to be having a great time. With temperatures in the high 70s during the day and high 60s in the evening, it’s perfect weather for playing during the day and curling up in your sleeping bag at night. The water is blue and the sunsets have been magnificent. Students have viewed a wide array of native species including: key deer, mantas, iguanas, a manatee, four different species of sea turtles, a nurse shark and many different birds and fish. We have also seen more RVs per square foot than anywhere else in the US I would wager. It’s been a great trip so far!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Iron Chef: Day 1 – Monday, March 20th

Day 1 was all about preparation. The students divided into teams of 3 or 4, each with a head chef and determined their menu for the Iron Chef competition. The teams had to decide on an appetizer, main course and dessert dish. The teams made a list of all ingredients and kitchen utensils needed for their dishes. The students then organized and washed all of the existing kitchen supplies to determine what we still need to purchase for their Iron Chef competition on Friday.

Finally, after a morning of planning and washing we headed to lunch at Gourmet Inspirations in Wheaton, Maryland, where we enjoyed wonderful dishes of authentic Chinese food. We ate dim sum, duck, BBQ pork, orange beef, chow foon noodles, Chinese broccoli, sesame chicken, lobster in ginger and scallion sauce, dumplings, dumplings and more dumplings!! Too stuffed to move, we waddled back to campus to pack away our cooking supplies until Friday.

Italy
By Kathy Laughlin

We finally have a moment to touch base with you and let you know what a wonderful experience we are having here in Italy!
The plane ride and all connections went very smoothly, and we landed at the airport outside Venice at about 1:00 on Friday afternoon. We then hopped a ‘water taxi’ for the 50 minute ride to Venice. Venice is everything you might think it is, and more. It is stunningly beautiful and terribly crowded. We made our way, all 28 of us – luggage and all, over the cobblestones and multiple bridges covering the canals, stopping from time to time to take photos. We finally reached our little Hotel Canada in the middle of Venice between St. Mark’s Square and the Rialto. After dumping our luggage, we were off on a whirlwind tour of Venice with our lovely and very funny guide, Francesca. The kids were attentive and curious, but we all hit the wall after being up for almost 38 hours. We also met up with Tom Gibian and his wife, Tina Grady, to fill out our little group of 30!

On Saturday we had a lovely breakfast of coffee and croissants, of course, and headed out to enjoy more of enchanting Venice. We walked (lots and lots of walking) to the famous Gugenheim Museum of modern art on the Grand Canal. After this, the students had free time to wander the tiny and beautiful alleys of Venice, eat pizza and gelato, and take in the sites. We then took another water taxi to the islands of Murano and Burano, famous for glass making and lace making. After dinner and a good night’s sleep, we were packed and moving again. We caught a bus to Verona where we were met by another wonderful guide named Katia. Verona is an ancient city with thousands of years of history, including the homes of Romeo and Juliet. Many believe that although Shakespeare’s work is fiction, it has its foundation in pieces of a true story. So we went to see the balcony where Juliet called out to Romeo, and love was in the air everywhere – and apparently love is very crowded! We then saw the Verona Arena, a Roman amphitheatre completed in about 30 AD. After lunch in the main square of Verona, the Piazza dei Signori in the shadow of of the Verona Arena, we hopped back on the bus to head to Lac Garda, the largest lake in Italy. We visited the ancient town of Sirmione and the Scaliger castle, dating from the 13th century. We then walked to the tip of the peninusla to see the ancient Roman Grottoes of Catulus, the ruins of a Roman villa buit by the Roman poet, Catulus. Sadly, the area was closed, but we salvaged the walk with a trip back through the ancient town to the gelato store on the way back to the bus. We were then on our way to Milan where we finally connected to our homestay families among cheers and claps as our bus pulled up to Setti Carraro. Students were enthusiastically welcomed with hugs and everyone went off to their various homestays.

Monday morning we were all together again at Setti Carraro where we took tours of the amazing school. Originally built by one of Napoleno’s generals, the house was converted to a school for girls. Today, it is co-ed. It was remarkable to walk through this enormous house which still looks very much like a house, but with frescos and painting, statues and marble. The students worked in groups with their Italian partners, discussing similarities and differences between American and Italian teenage life. We were then given a presentation by our Italian hosts about sites we would be seeing over the next few days, including the modern art museum, Il Museo del Novecento, which we visited in the afternoon, and the beautiful town of Mantova, which we visited today.

This morning we were up bright and early, departing from the school at 7:15 for our day trip to Mantova, the third UNESCO World Heritage Site we’ve seen on this trip. This city is famous for its architecture, palaces, and medieval and Renaissance art.
So far our trip to Italy has been extraordinary and wonderful. The country is stunning, the food is delicious, and the people are warm and friendly. The students have made great connections with many things they’ve learned at SSFS, including history, literature, and art. As educators, it’s incredibly validating to hear kids saying to each other, “Oh, we learned about that in Elizabeth’s class…I remember that from Arts and Ideas….Romeo and Juliet was my favorite freshman play and I can’t believe we’re seeing the balcony….” Know that your children are enthusiastically embracing this experience, are connected and engaged, and are having a wonderful time. We’ve very proud of them and you should be, too.

We’ll touch base again soon to fill you in on more of our Italian adventures.

Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula (Day 3: March 20)
By Eduardo Polon
Could our weekend have been any better? No. Now it was Monday. Back to the grind, I guess…or not, as we started the new week at Chichen Itza, one of the seven wonders of the world. Representing the remains of one of the largest and most powerful city-states of the pre-Columbian Americas, this archeological site covers approximately 5 square kilometers, though the estimated extent of dense urban development at the city’s peak is thought to have reached 25 square kilometers. Although first settlements date back to 350 BCE, the height of the Mayan time in Chichen Itza ran from 550 CE to 900 CE. Later, the Toltecs would rule these lands from 960 CE to 1204 CE. Why the change and eventual abandonment? Not unlike the Helen of Troy legend, it appears to be caused by the beauty of and claim over a woman. A princess to be precise. Go figure! Considering all we saw today, it’s amazing to realize that so much remains unexcavated, under a mixture of dense forest and farms. More awesome than the scope of Chichen Itza is the remarkable geographic, geometric and celestial precision with which it was built.

After a full morning walking tour in the Mexican sun, it was a treat to be able to descend into the cavernous Cenote Ik Kil and cool our cores with a quick dip in this 150 foot deep pool, before enjoying a buffet lunch. With regards to meals, our group has been adjusting to a couple of differences. In Mexico, lunch tends to be around 2:00pm and is the largest meal of the day, whereas dinner, consisting of lighter fare, takes place around 7:00pm. Additionally, we have all noticed the organic purity of traditional market ingredients versus the more processed diets we tend to fall back on in American supermarkets.

The second half of our day was spent traveling to and touring on foot the beautiful colonial city of Mérida. Founded in 1540, and with a population today of nearly one million, Mérida is a bustling place, built in the European tradition, around the cathedral and town square. Dating back to 1552, Mérida’s Cathedral is the oldest in the American continental mainland. Down the street, the indoor Mercado Lucas de Galvés is a Casbah-like maze of aisles and sensory overload of sounds, smells and colors, with exotic combinations of flavors, like the sweet and spicy Tamarindo with Chile. Other treats we sampled include the unique regional Mamey, a creamy, almost sweet potato-like fruit, and a series of actual sweets from marzipan, meringue, an amaranth crispy treat aptly called alegría, and most everyone’s favorite cocada.

Another welcome treat in Mérida were the amenities of our new accommodations, from WiFi and air conditioning to a rooftop pool and complimentary bottled water.

Following a welcome dinner, our day ended with an evening stroll to the town square to enjoy the sights and sounds of a joyous folkloric dance festival.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joshua Tree
By Julie Borsetti

The Joshua Tree Intersession is off to a great start! Yesterday, Sunday, was a long travel day. We arrived at our campsite around 8:30 pm, set up camp and went straight to sleep. This morning we woke up at 6:00 am, had a beautiful sunrise camp breakfast, and then headed to the park for our first day of climbing. Students learned to belay each other and learned some basic climbing movement techniques from our expert guides. The climbing was really fun! After a picnic lunch we headed to Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, where we hiked and picked up trash. After a fun stop at the eclectic “Cactus Mart” we headed back to camp. Student are currently working together to cook some spaghetti and meatballs for dinner. Everyone is having a great time, and are tired from long days in the sun. After dinner tonight, a campfire meeting for worship and S’mores are planned!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Southwest Service
Miriam Rock

Today (March 20), we did service at an old ranger station in El Malpais! At El Mapais we did a combination of really exciting service. The station and associated trails have been closed for almost 9 months. One group cleaned up around the station to help prevent wild fires while the other 3 took to the trails, pulling up weeds, moving rocks and enjoying some gorgeous views. Tonight we’ll be camping near Zuni and spending the afternoon and evening enjoying our time together and in nature.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 20, 2017

Updates from trips began to come in over the weekend – all good reports and safe travels so far!

Food for Thought

(from the perspectives of Breezy and Eric)* On Monday, March 20th, our intersession split up into two groups to serve breakfast and lunch at Shepherd’s Table in Silver Spring. One of the groups reported to school at 8 AM and headed to the grocery store to face off in a contest to find necessary food items to donate to Capital Area Food Bank in D.C. where we are headed on Wednesday. The task was to shop for as many donations as possible among three teams, all for under $33.33. The group winner is to be announced tomorrow (our AP Stats teacher is running the numbers on that one tonight). We met up with the other seven students at Eggspectations in Silver Spring, just down the road from our service. After an eggspecially eggcellent meal together, we headed off to serve lunch at Shepherd’s Table while the other group returned to Sandy Spring for a movie showing. We prepped kitchen items, washed dishes, and cleaned the floors. The work was very rewarding.

(from the perspectives of Duc Ahn and Jake)* Our group of dorm students got up early in the morning (reported 6:15 AM to Frances’ room!), heading to the Shepherd’s table and serving breakfast. We served and cleared and cleaned and mopped. It was rewarding for us to serve, and you could tell that the people we served were so grateful. Then we met up with the other group at the restaurant. It was a truly eggceptional meal. After that, we went back to the school, watching a movie while waiting for the other group to come back. We watched the moving story of Chris Gardener in “The Pursuit of Happyness” about his struggle as a single father from homelessness to a top job as a broker. It was a moving and inspirational story. The other half rejoined us in Frances’ room, where we had snacks participated in a reflection discussion and brief moments of silence.

*Note: student paragraphs were supplemented and by Frances Markowitz, as tired students needed naps and paragraphs needed egg puns.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ireland
The Ireland Intersession group has uploaded some great photos to Vidigami – a few below, and more online! (Click on thumbnails to see larger versions.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Historical Maryland 

The students worked in two groups; updates from each group are below:

By Justis Dixon
We worked at the shrine of St. Anthony doing various tasks for Father Joe. We cleared an area of brambles in order to expose the nice rocks overlooking the stream. Others built a bridge replacing the one that had been washed away in a flood which connected the opposite banks of river. We also moved bricks and other stuff, gardened in the small garden, and did various other assorted tasks. It was a very rewarding experience to help these people and work in such a beautiful area.

By Emily Gordon
Today we went to the shrine of St. Anthony. We oiled the doors, cleaned the windows, and dusted the rooms. We got to explore the beautiful halls of the church and the library. The cedar oil really made the wood shine. The library had an astounding second level. Sadly it was locked, but it looked divine. We met father Joe and the monks of the church. We went into the dungeon basement to get the oil.

A few photos from their day:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula (Day 2:March 19)
By Eduardo Polon
Our first night proved revelatory. The canopy of infinitesimal stars that drapes the Ek Balam community is a hypnotic, celestial marvel to behold. Also, despite our remoteness, there are so many sounds to the silence. From chirps, breezes, falling flora and swaying fronds to roaming street dogs, turkeys and competing roosters, the resident symphony is as harmonious as it is foreign. 4:48am rooster taunts signal a pre-6:00am sunrise, reminding us all of our proximity to the Equator.

Thank goodness we had an easy evening the night before that permitted us to recharge, as today was packed. A nearly hour-long hike to the Ek Balam archeological ruins proved well worth the sacrifice. The scope and majesty of this once great community are humbling. From there, an off-road bike ride through the jungle led us to our first cenote – X Canche. As the impact zone of the meteor strike that wiped out the dinosaurs, the Yucatan was altered terrestrially in very unique ways, none more so perhaps than with its thousands of underground rivers and dramatic sink holes (cenotes): vine-draped cylindrical tubes that plummet 50 feet to the calcium rich pools below. These are made more dramatic at X Canche by virtue of the zip-lining we did far overhead followed by rappelling down into the cenote. An Eden-like setting, swimming in these natural exfoliating pools, jumping from a rope swing and flipping off of a high platform made for the perfect respite from the beating sun, and another great shared team-building activity together, before riding back from where we began. Exhausted, sun-kissed and content, there’s a developing appreciation for the traditional late afternoon Mexican siesta.

Along the way, we were tickled to learn the etymological origins of the name Yucatan. In 1579, when the spaniards arrived to the peninsula and asked the Mayans in Spanish what they called their home, the reply was “Yum ka ta an.” The spaniards heard “Yucatán.” What they didn’t know was that in Mayan it means, “I do not understand. You sound silly.”

Speaking of Mayan, our hosts in this paradise are as kind and helpful as they are generous and thoughtful. They are also a proud people of great integrity. Signs in our rooms remind us that we are guests in their home and, as such, to please honor their customs. Respect is the coin of their realm. Part of a community-committed ecotourism initiative, we participated in Mayan language and cooking classes today. And speaking of food, each meal is carefully assembled, not only to be different from one another and mindful of our dietary restrictions, but authentic to the region. Fresh juices like Horchata, Habisco and Tamarindo complement traditional fare that always comes accompanied by warm, handmade tortillas and various salsas ranging from sweet and mild to the lip-numbing “is someone playing a joke on me?”

Perhaps the unexpected highlights of the day were two unscheduled and quite spontaneous night events: a soccer match, held at 9:00pm, in the center of town’s covered pavilion between some local young men and a hodgepodge of our group, guys, gals and guides, and salsa lessons for the others under another palapa. There is little more gratifying than strangers, let alone from different worlds, in every sense of “different,” coming together in such pure, joyous and friendly manners to form meaningful bonds. Simply brilliant!

Finally, the hard knocks, humorous lesson of the day: “C” on the faucet stands for “caliente” not “cold.” My bad…sort of.

9th Grade Intersession
By Karen Cumberbatch
The Ninth Grade Intersession arrived safely this morning with little impact save a brief delay to de-ice the planes wings as a result of the snow.  When we landed, it was bright, sunny, and in the 70s on the way to 80.  What a dramatic difference!  The journey to the campsites by van was broken up by lunch and a visit to see giant tarpon.  If you have not seen these fish before, they are quite imposing.  Students fed the fish, attempted to keep the seagulls at bay, and enjoyed the beautiful weather in the small shopping area.  We finished the day with dinner and an early turn-in as many were quite tired – chaperones included.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Southwest Service sent in their first photo over the weekend: About to board the plane at BWI! On Monday afternoon, they sent another photo “in the field.” They weren’t sure if they’d have internet service tonight, but promised to send more updates as soon as possible!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula (Day 1: March 18)
By Eduardo Polon
The bad news: 4:00 am start with light rains and 39 degrees. The good news: lunch in Mexico with blue skies, soft breezes and 79 degrees. That’s how our week’s intersession adventure began. After being greeted by our gracious host, Luis, and a wonderful welcome meal in Cancun that included a delicious bowl of Yucatan’s signature Sopa de Lima, we boarded our private bus and headed inland, due west, two hours, to the Mayan community of Ek Balam where tomorrow will be spent with the locals. You know it’s remote when the street address has no number and translates to “Old Road to Archeological Site.” After a long day of travel, settling into our palapa-laden cabins, sunset poolside, and dinner under a starry sky is just what the doctor ordered. WiFi, out here? You’ve got to be kidding…though there’s something rather schaedenfraude about seeing some go through internet withdrawal. But it has already done wonders for team building! All in all, a very good first day together in paradise.

March 16, 2017 – Pre-Trip Activity!

Joshua Tree Intersession Begins Service Work Early with Adaptive Climbing:
Gary Dunn, owner of Alpine Inspirations mountaineering company, and his assistants Eriq, Donna, and Lee, visited Sandy Spring Friends School on Sunday, March 12, to lead training for the members of the Joshua Tree Climbing and Service intersession group. The morning was devoted to learning more about adaptive climbing and finding ways to work with people with disabilities. The afternoon session, the group welcomed eight participants with a wide range of disabilities and climbing experience. Students belayed the climbers and cheered their successes. They also helped the climbers get in and out of adaptive harnesses and other gear that would make their climbing experience more comfortable and more thoroughly supported.

On Sunday, March 19, the group of 14 students and two upper-school faculty members will travel to Joshua Tree National Park for their own week-long climbing, camping, and service trip. We hope to continue this burgeoning relationship between Gary and SSFS so that we can share our phenomenal climbing wall with more people of all abilities! Read more in the March 16 e-newsletter article.