There were no family vacations or relaxing for 13 Lawrence Woodmere Academy students during the school’s winter break. Instead, the baker’s dozen, along with upper school faculty coordinator Erica Martinelli, visited Puerto Rico for five days.
From Feb. 13 to 18, the group stayed in the San Juan area and took part in collaborative projects such as agricultural restoration and reforestation. The trip was made possible by the EF Explore America as they put together the itinerary for the trip. The organization aims to help students gain new perspectives and build skills through experiential learning, according to a statement on its website. According to EF Explore America, LWA was the first school in the United States to travel on a Service Learning trip with EF Explore America.
“A former student of mine approached me last spring about taking a service-related trip to a place where our help was needed,” Martinelli said. “I’ve had a relationship with EF Explore America since I’ve been traveling internationally with students for a few years and we eventually got in touch them about taking a trip like this.” Martinelli has been at LWA for three years and has already traveled to Argentina, the Dominican Republic and Italy.
The students worked with the Scuba Dogs Society, a Puerto Rico-based organization that aims to clean up marine debris around the coasts of the island nation. They also took part in two reforestation projects, which included the replanting of mangrove trees that were destroyed in Hurricane Maria in 2017. Not only did they replant the mangroves, but they also prepared the land for the trees by shoveling and raking.
Allison Siegel, an LWA senior, and junior Harrison Schwartz were two of the students on the trip. Siegel said her goal was to lend a hand. “Throughout my time at LWA, I’ve always been interested in helping others,” Siegel said. “I think it’s important to reflect on what we have and give back to those in need, so that’s why I participated on this trip.”
Schwartz said that while San Juan area was in good shape, the devastation from Maria remains in areas outside Puerto Rico’s largest city. “Some of the towns that we passed during the trip were still in bad shape and suffering from the storm,” she said.
Plans for the next service trip are still being worked out, Martinelli said. However, Schwartz said without hesitation that he would go again. “Being able to work with my classmates outside of school like we did in Puerto Rico was awesome,” he said.
For Martinelli, the highlight was the students’ work ethic. “The students truly worked hard at making a difference,” she said. “They were motivated to make a change and it showed in the effort that they put in throughout the trip.”