72 fifth graders and 10 members of ISP staff arrived bright and early on Tuesday morning to board a flight to David and then continue on to Cerro Punta in the Chiriqui Highlands next to the Costa Rican Border. The annual 5th grade residential experience had begun. There were no phones, no electronics but there was a great sense of excitement and adventure.
We arrived to beautiful weather and after settling in, went for a hike up into the cloud forest to try to find the elusive Quetzal. Amazingly, despite the size of the group, with some quiet walking we were able to view several of the beautiful birds and a nest where eggs would be hatching soon. The rest of the day involved some free time, dinner and playing games before it was time to go to bed.
Wednesday was a packed day - outdoor challenge activities, a trip to the horse farm, outdoor lunch and the flour fight and more time spent with friends. The students really challenged themselves at the outdoor activities enjoying getting wet, completing challenges and physical activities. Lunch was eaten outside and then it was on to the horse farm. Chiriqui province has some world famous horse breeding farms and we got to see where all the work is done. From a tiny foal to one of the largest horses in Panama, that we all got to sit on.
Then it was time to return to our accommodation for one of the most eagerly awaited events in the fifth grade year. The annual flour fight between the students and their teachers. The teachers would like to think that they won, but the photographic evidence appears to show otherwise. Students then got to enjoy some more community time with their friends before it was time to wash up and get ready for dinner.
Unfortunately, here is when the trip that was planned, was affected by what had been going on in the rest of Panama away from our group. While we had been enjoying the outdoors, the sunshine and each other's company, the rest of Panama schools had been closed because of the Covid 19 virus. Without access to technology, the students were unaware of what was unfolding elsewhere and had been enjoying their time away. the information was shared that no one else had been to school on Wednesday and that sadly we would have to go home one day early. We had managed to rearrange much of the programme to include nearly all of the activities and it had been a great trip so far, but the bus ride back would come one day earlier than planned.
The students did a great job of working through their emotions and set about enjoying their final night together. The following day a long bus ride with countless games of Uno lay ahead.
The students returned safely to their families having gained some skills in adventure, independence and compassion, they were truly authentic and definitely joyful. Despite everything, this was a trip to remember.
At closing meeting on the final night one of the students remarked, 'My high for the day, which is kind of a low, is, finding out that school will be closed for four weeks, makes me realize, ‘I love school’.
Check out this PODcast made by the students.