I recently returned from a Cuban Expedition with 32 8th graders from The Philadelphia School. Cuba! Whenever I speak the word, eyes light up and questions start coming. We are so fascinated by Cuba, an intriguing mystery of a country so close to our shores. The questions are often political in nature, understandably, but rarely do you hear conversations about the stunning waterfalls and gorgeous endemic birds. But that is where the spark truly begins, especially with young students.
Walking through the stone streets of historical towns, admiring vivid colors and architectural styles spanning centuries of influence is worth the experience, without a doubt. But if you are 14-years-old, how much intellectual adrenaline do you have pumping at that moment? Are you really intrigued? On the other hand, jump into a crystal clear pool of fresh mountain spring water and make your way behind the small waterfall, grasping at fern-covered limestone as your heart races with excitement. Now the spark has been ignited. Now you are curious – how were the guerrillas living in these mountains for so long? What forces could have driven them to do something so extreme? Did they, perhaps, bathe in these gorgeous pools and eat from these trees? How do the modern-day Cuban communities live out here without access to transportation? Stores? Food? Things people need to survive? If you are looking for a path to the heart of intellectual adrenaline, let nature be your guide.
The kids have to climb into a starfruit tree in order be interested in learning the word, “carambola.” They have to toss the fruit down to their friends and encourage them to give it a taste, rather than just find it on their plate. They have to be given the space to come up with ideas, such as, “let’s try and make this into a juice… smashing it with our own hands!” These are the experiences that endure.
You can walk through every museum in Cuba, yet it will likely be forgotten by the time they share the stories with their parents. I work with Chill Expeditions because we aren’t interested in the checklist of activities and attractions. Our end game is education; the real stuff.
— Gretchen Ferrell, Chill Expedition Planning Guide