Students from George School traveled to the Caribbean last year to help protect one of the last healthy reefs in the region.
The group of students were led by science teacher Chris Odom to Bonaire, a designated marine sanctuary. To start their journey the students first had to become certified scuba divers, something they were able to do in the school’s 25 yard, 8-lane pool, and learn how to identify fish for a scientific survey, by the Bonaire National Park Foundations Junior Rangers. They used these skills to engage in an underwater reef clean-up and assist with a fish identification survey to help researchers monitoring reef health.
Part of the work of saving the reef included days of beach clean-up, resulting in the removal of several truck-loads of debris. Students focused on clearing the most hazardous garbage first such as plastic water bottles, Styrofoam, shoe soles, and old toys.
“As we finished our work, all of our trash put together made it seem as though we had really made an impact,” said Aubrey Saunders ’18. “While it may seem like we are barely making a dent in the efforts to clean up the East coast shore, I realize that every effort counts no matter how small and that without it, no progress would be made.”
In addition to the planned clean-up activities, students also witnessed the aftermath of a toxic oil spill.
“Shortly before we arrived on Bonaire, an oil refinery in Trinidad ruptured spilling oil into the Caribbean,” said Chris. “The oil slick traveled over 1000 kilometers.”
In one day, the group of students managed to clear 150 pounds of tar from one beach, but said there was far more work to be done.
Service Learning Coordinator Steven Fletcher said trips like the one to Bonaire help students fulfill the George School mission of creating citizen-scholars by learning through service.
“The service learning component prepares our students to be great citizens,” Steven said. “It does that by getting them out of their comfort zone and out of Bucks County. They get to see people who are different from them. They get to learn that even though I am in a different place, and our lives are different, we also have a lot in common.”
Zoe Valdepeñas-Mellor ’18 said she felt a connection to the Bonaire children when she volunteered at a children’s after school program called Jong Bonaire, similar to the Boys and Girls Clubs in the United States. “I learned that even though the children and I come from different backgrounds and have a slight language barrier we are all able to have fun with one another.”
Service learning trips are an integral part of the George School experience. Last year, students traveled to a variety of locations including, Arizona, Costa Rica, Vietnam, Washington D.C., France, Nicaragua, and Nepal. Students are currently on spring break service trips in Nicaragua, Mississippi, Haiti, Washington D.C., and South Africa.