Ten students from Vermont Commons School recently ventured to Belize for an intensive 11-day learning experience. Every moment of the trip was designed to engage students with the world. Vermont Commons student Elsa Hollyer felt that “The home stay visits really made me appreciate how little we need. I was happier in Belize than I have been in a long time. It made me appreciate what is necessary and what life is really about.”
The Belize trip Encounter Week gave students a hands-on education in the ecology of Belize, from its pristine rainforests to its renowned coral reef, and immersed students in Mayan and Garifuna culture. Some students faced their fear of spiders and held a tarantula. On a night walk through the rainforest, students held a baby Morelet’s Crocodile. Students also netted and studied bats and birds. They tasted raw cacao, bitters, fish eyeballs, and plenty of beans and rice and made a traditional Garifuna dish called hudut, from coconuts, plantains, and fish. Students shopped for vegetables at a market, played soccer with their Mayan peers, talked with villagers about the impacts of local oil exploration and visited an ancient Mayan archaeological site.
Vermont Commons Student Justin Decatur, says “The trip to Belize opened up and exposed a different way of life than ours. It took all of the irrational worries and stress and put it into a more rounded perspective. “
This is the third time teachers Mark Cline Lucey and Jennifer Cohen have led a school trip to Belize. According to Cline Lucey, who first visited Belize on a college semester abroad in 1993, “When I first studied the natural and cultural ecologies of Belize almost twenty years ago, it blew my world wide open. The country has so much to teach us about how a developing nation can care for its natural environments and how different ethnic groups within a nation can peacefully coexist while maintaining their culture. Traveling allowed me to look at my own country with new eyes, and I have always wanted that sense of perspective for my own students.” Cohen says, “Watching the students interact with so many different animals, and with so many different cultures, all in one country, is a magical experience.”