Welcome to Day 4 of our 2023 St. John, USVI Travel Study Trip. Today, we had the pleasure of experiencing the beauty of Francis Bay with a seashore walk and snorkel.
Despite the brisk breeze and swells, we made our way onto the limestone shelf rock where marine organisms shelter until they are big enough to live in deeper waters. Although the swells made it difficult to see into the water, we were lucky enough to spot brittle stars, which we all got to hold.
We then headed to the calmer waters of Maho Bay where we were able to see a variety of sea creatures, including blue tang, spiny-finned fish, sergeant majors, and parrot fish. Some of us were even able to spot sponges and brain coral. It was a truly magical experience, and we felt like a school of humans as we swam through a school of bar jacks.
As the sun set, a National Park Archaeologist shared the history of the early peoples of St. John. We learned about the spiritual significance of Cinnamon Bay for people traveling from South America and Puerto Rico, the colonial period when St. John was owned by several European countries, and the sugar plantations run by the Danes until slavery was abolished. We were fascinated by the artifacts from all periods, which helped tell her stories.
To end the day, we shared our favorite watercolor pages and gave each other compliments and suggestions. It was amazing to see the incredible artwork created by our Phoenix School’s EarlyAct Club. Our artists incorporated information about our experiences into their masterpieces like pros.
Join us for more adventures on our 2023 St. John, USVI Travel Study Trip!
Phoenix School’s EarlyAct Club is on the job today. We join Taylor, a Friends of the Virgin Island volunteer, to give back to the National Park with a day of service. We head out early for Brown Bay to help clean the environment there. After a mile hike up a rocky, “super steep incline” to the ridge and back down to the beach, we go to work. At the beach, we sift through dirt and sand to find and separate trash; mostly plastic, rope, and bottle caps. Liam finds a big bucket covered with a thousand ants. We leave the ants but remove the bucket.
Under a relentless, beating sun we work, thankful for our water bottles. Nearby we spy giant termite nests and wood with termite holes, but no visible termites. They are smart to hide away in their nests and tunnels from the intense sunlight. We spy thousands of wasps minding their own business, happy to be left alone. Everywhere there are flying bugs and more bugs trying to annoy us, but we try hard to ignore them. Taylor shows us false pineapple, starvation fruit, and other native plants. Hermit crabs and brown pelicans are treats for our eyes, but the highlight is spying a sting ray in the water close to shore.
We return to camp with a sense of accomplishment in helping our National Park community, ready to seek shade under our restaurant’s canopy. It is a perfect time to relax and work on journal watercolor pages as we rehydrate and renew our strength for a late afternoon snorkel.
Cinnamon Bay waters welcome us back to its underwater world. As we swim, we encounter a range of marine life, from the stunning body of the Moon Jelly to the hard yellow shell of the Hawksbill turtle. We see the Sargent Major, the Conch sitting atop a coral throne, and the Trumpet fish with its shiny, grey skin and long snout.
Our day ends with the thundering surf beckoning us to bed after a day of sun, service, and swimming…in paradise! Stay tuned for more updates on our St. John, USVI Travel Study Trip with The Phoenix School.
As we made maps to trace our journey from Boston to Atlanta and over the backbone of St. Thomas, we knew we were in for an adventure. We boarded the Redhook ferry, crossed rolling water with whitecaps waving at us all the way to Cruz Bay on St. John, and wound our way through switch-backing mountain roads to our final destination, Cinnamon Bay campground. But the true distance we covered today was even more incredible than we expected, and our long day left us feeling the tropical heat and basking in brilliant sunlight. Leaving cold Massachusetts behind was easy, and we’d been looking forward to this moment for weeks. Our journey was more than just a physical one; it was an educational travel experience that allowed us to explore different cultures and immerse ourselves in new environments.
“I buzz with excitement as I wait to start painting creatures, plants, and places flowing from my mind and onto the paper, the bright saturated colors warping and mixing as I go. By the end of our tropic adventure, I will go home with the essence of St. John tucked in my backpack in a sketchbook.” – condensed from Aine’s journal
“After nine years of waiting, imagery floods my mind of Kindergarten me patiently listening to the 6-8’s experiences and memories made together and wondering, ‘When will it be my turn?’ Colored pencil portraits of VI marine life are seemingly jumping off my journal pages and into the water right before my eyes. I have a head full of knowledge from my research and a heart bubbling with anticipation. I feel more ready than ever to immerse myself in everything the VI has to offer.” – condensed from Alice’s journal
“One clue after another, we get closer to finding our study trip destination. Finally, we guess St. John and, to our surprise, it’s confirmed. Instantly I am taken to a beach surrounded by stunning blue water with palm trees rustling in the wind mixed with the rhythmic crashing of waves creating soothing music on the shoreline.” – condensed from Arlo’s journal
“It’s going to be very enjoyable to be somewhere I have never been before. Snorkeling causes me to be scared of St. John’s wavy, blue ocean because I feel like the deep blue water will swallow me even though I have a life jacket on. This is going to be so exciting because it will introduce me to new things. I feel like I am going to explode.” – condensed from Aiden’s journal
“The adventures I might find in the Virgin Islands are unimaginable. Snorkeling excites me and as I see a sea turtle swim by me, I imagine that I’m touching its shell.” – condensed from Eziah’s journal
“I assure myself my soul will be filled soon with St. John’s salty trade winds blowing wonder into my mind. I imagine splashing and flapping with flamboyant fish, encircled in their lively dance, a part of the Caribbean expanse.” – condensed from Karina D’s journal
“I’m incredibly excited for this trip. It will be a whole new tropical experience; the views, refreshing trade winds, and a variety of small critters. Snorkeling will also be new. I’ve never been snorkeling before and I’m kind of nervous. Fish are a little bit scary and I’ve only seen them from a distance. However, I am still excited for the trip. I made a lot of good memories last year, and I know there will be more memories that I make this year. – from Karina PZ’s journal
“As the plane bounces up and down, I can feel my anticipation building up. I envision myself snorkeling in the crystal blue water of the VI, seeing the vibrant fish and plentiful corals, but something else tugs at my brain. The scene shifts to the great house. From the hill the view is magnificent. I want to stare at it all day. With a sudden jolt, I am shattered back to the plane. Now, just like the plane, I am bouncing up and down in my seat. I cannot wait.” – condensed from Max’s journal
“I’m feeling pretty worried about going to St. John because I never went on a plane before. I’m so pumped to see all the colorful fish and birds, just watching the sunset, and writing about what I learned.” – condensed from Alfie’s journal
“My eyebrows raise, my lips grin with a giggly insecure feeling inside. I get to fly to tropical St. John. In my head I envision the smell of the beach, so salty, so exhilarating to dive in and enjoy the academic water experience. A proud feeling washes through my body as these patterned creatures prove my research correct, or maybe they’ll teach me I was wrong.” – condensed from Audrey’s journal
“Existing in the moment, I’ll notice the sound first, the sound of birds chirping and the ever warm water crawling onto the sand. A cool breeze flows against my face, whistling in my ears and through my ocean-curled hair. There’s so much more room for this island to grow in the garden that is my mind. It will be ever so rewarding to go.” – condensed from Fiona’s journal
“At the very thought of St. John’s rich and immersive history and ecosystem, I am filled with wonder. I can’t wait to see in person what I have spent so long researching, the sugar mill, coral, and animals alike. It is always terrifying to think about being away from home, but it is easily outweighed by my anticipation for the experiences to comes.” – condensed from Liam’s journal
Imagining and Examining the Everglades at the Phoenix School
by Joey Phoenix
Spring is finally here and the students at The Phoenix School are gearing up for their annual adventure. This year, they’re trekking down to the Florida Everglades.
Trips like these have been part of the school’s curriculum for years now as a way to create an engaging project that’s adaptable across age, ability, and learning style. This year’s trip focus is on the ecology, including both flora and fauna, as well as the issues of social and environmental change affecting southeast Florida.
These young students are such an incredible voice for change, and their trips to these places equip them with knowledge and experiences they can bring back with them to reshape their world.
So for the past few weeks, all of the students at the school have been researching and prepping for their journey. The 6th-8th graders will actually be traveling to the southern tip of Florida where they will spend several days exploring Everglades National Park, and the Kindergarten through 5th graders will be taking part in an imaginary trip which will take place in the school also during that time.
The older kids will be basing their operations at a youth hostel just outside Everglades, and from there they’ll be able to make day trips to explore different aspects of the National Park. One of the highlights of the trip is a 15 mile bike ride though Shark Valley where they’ll get to see lots of things, including tiny alligators who frequently cross the path in search of new watering holes.
While the older kids are encountering alligators in the wild, the younger kids will stage an Everglades trip of their own, imagining everything from going through airport security, making plane tickets, flying a plane (and often “crashing” it in Florida to the accompaniment of Google Earth on the projector. They also will transform their benches into imaginary kayaks, use long poles and pool noodles to make pretend oars, and go on a make-believe kayaking trip through the Mangroves.
To prepare, the students have been creating research guides, where they create visual aids to help them understand what they’ll be seeing on the trip, take notes to explain the visual guides and keep track of any new vocabulary they learn along the way.
Each of the research guide’s requirements is modified to fit the student’s learning styles and level. More advanced students will create elaborate visual aids and will work on shortening their notes and writing in their own voice, while younger students will learn about composition and observation.
This way, everyone can get those kinds of lessons doing their own research. It’s also important to recognize that one kid’s work doesn’t necessarily need to look like another kid’s work for it to be well done, they’re going to do it at their own level and think about the kind of things that interest them. For example, some students may focus on the chemistry aspect of the research while others will want to look into flowering plants or regional wildlife.
If each student has their own learning style, way of processing, and special talents and abilities, they should be allowed to do the kind of work that allows them to develop those skills on their own merits, and projects like these are just one more thing the Phoenix School does to make that possible.
About the Phoenix School:
Phoenix is an experience-driven learning community that gives kids the tools, thoughts, and experiences that will help them become the best versions of themselves and fosters their development as contributors to society. At Phoenix, we emphasize process over product, implementing project-based learning through our curriculum to help students think critically, explore deeply, challenge themselves, contribute positively to their world, and learn more from their failures and celebrate their successes. Our core values are creativity, perseverance, citizenship, and empathy.
At Phoenix we always start Thanksgiving week by cooking, in multi age teams of students ranging from K-8th grade. These connections allow students to learn real life and valuable lessons from the variety of teachable moments. The Thanksgiving holiday reminds us of the importance of connection – not just with friends and family, but within our school. Phoenix is a family of students, alums, teachers, and friends. Our annual Thanksgiving Feast at school allows us to be able to celebrate together as one large family, connecting current students, with past generations of students.
Our community works together, where teams have to learn collaboration, and older team leaders learn to guide their younger partners through different aspects of cooking, from cutting and peeling apples and potatoes to different measuring terms, like rounded teaspoons versus flat teaspoons. Did you know cooking involves a variety of sciences, math, discovery, taste, textures, team building, real life learning and so much more? Students learn fractions in action, and how they apply to real life situations. During cranberry sauce making, students actively observe the physical changes of cranberries while they are being heated and cooked, and from sour berries to sweet sauce! Even the simple act of cooking can bring feelings from joy to frustration, to exploding taste buds and smells!
Older students learn to lead, guide and share their knowledge, while engaging the younger grades, encouraging them to participate and teaching them how to do certain jobs safely. Younger students are able to fully participate from measuring, to cutting to cooking the food. Students have to learn how to read recipes accurately and follow directions, otherwise their creations might just not succeed! These are real life skills, at all grade levels, and they teach students patience, team building, collaboration, guiding, teaching, and knowing when to lead and when to allow others the spotlight and so much more. All of these skills will transfer into situations students will find themselves in throughout their whole life, from highschool, to college and to their careers.
The students spend two days preparing and cooking a Thanksgiving Feast for our school community. From cooking and cleaning to decorations and dessert all grades are actively involved with creating their feast. On our final day we redesign the school to create one long table for the students, a smaller table for our Alumni visitors and a teachers table. Students are able to learn the dining etiquette of a formal meal, but in a very kid friendly way! By gathering around the table, students are able to share stories of their family traditions and enjoy the feast that they were a part of creating.
This also opens the opportunity for our community to reflect on the things we are grateful for, to find gratitude and begin to think about setting new goals for following year. And while it is important to recognize the gift of giving to the community, it is also the time to show respect and indifference to each other. Students are given the opportunity to reflect, in a group sharing moment students comment on what they are thankful for. Kindergarteners are often thankful for something in their family, while the older students often reflect on life events or global events that are making them think on a deeper level. Being thankful for parents is a common theme, from being given the opportunity to go to a school they value to pushing them to grow outside their box, to providing them with a safe home.
Students keep our local shelter, Lifebridge, in mind and make extra food to donate for their Thanksgiving Feast the following day. Students here are used to giving, helping, volunteering and being thoughtful. From a young age students learn to be mindful and considerate of their peers, their community and to students around the globe. As active members of the EarlyAct Club of the Salem Rotary Club our K-8 students discuss, vote and implement community actions that involve volunteering or donations. The learn early that giving comes in many forms—time, energy, money, goods and services, and more. But all have something in common at their core: they are gifts offered without expectation or implication of repayment, only the desire to create a better future.