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Costa Rica Trip Filled with New Experiences for RPS Middle Schoolers

Costa Rica Trip Filled with New Experiences for RPS Middle Schoolers

Travel has the power to change us. Studies have shown that traveling can make us more outgoing and open to new experiences. It can increase our awareness of the world around us and help us forge deeper friendships with our fellow travelers through shared experiences. This spring break a group of 35 seventh and eighth graders and six chaperones from Rutgers Prep ventured more than 2,000 miles from home to explore Costa Rica with many of those same transformative goals in mind.

To take full advantage of the opportunity and experience as much of the country as possible, the eight-day itinerary was absolutely packed with activities and excursions from start to finish. (Believe us when we say that our chaperones got their steps!)

Our students explored the rain and cloud forests for which Costa Rica is so well-known and came face-to-face with some of the country's amazing local wildlife, including howler monkeys, two-toed sloths, coatis, iguanas, and agoutis. On a river safari they saw crocodiles, basilisk lizards, and a variety of birds including white ibis, roseate spoonbills, black hawks, yellow headed caracara, black vultures, blue herons, and egrets, among other species.

Each and every one of the 35 students on the trip, with the encouragement of their friends, boldly faced down their fears, flying over the treetops on a canopy zipline tour in Puntarenas. They also braved a nighttime hike as the forest floor teemed with red-legged tarantulas, leaf cutter ants, and scorpions that glowed in the dark.

 

Arenal, one of the most active volcanoes in Costa Rica, is a must-see sight, and our students had an unbeatable view of it as they kayaked in Lake Arenal, a sprawling lake that sits at the volcano's base. No trip to the country would be complete without a visit to Manuel Antonio National Park. Despite being the smallest national park in Costa Rica, it’s home to incredibly varied and beautiful landscapes, with its lush forest situated right on the edge of pristine white sand beaches where our students very much enjoyed swimming in the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean. That time on the beach also provided one of the chaperones’ favorite student quotes from the trip: "Why is the water so blue? I’ve never seen a blue ocean before!”

Our exploration was also a culinary one. The group took a cooking class in Santa Elena and learned to prepare a traditional Costa Rican lunch of arroz con pollo and homemade tortillas as well as empanadas filled with traditionally-seasoned spaghetti squash for dessert. Costa Rica is also one of the world’s top coffee producers, and, in the town of Alajuela, the students learned the process of producing coffee from seed to processing to packaging. They experienced how the beans are picked and dried in the sun, then transported in heavy burlap coffee bags for storage.

One of the most gratifying stops on the trip, though, was the visit to the NATUWA Wildlife Sanctuary, a nonprofit that provides refuge and protection to animals harmed by human actions. In the lead up to the trip, our group raised over $1,000 to benefit the sanctuary by holding bake sales, selling bracelets, sponsoring "Penny Wars," and a dress-down day, all of which the RPS Middle School community participated in with passion. Once there, our group was honored to have the sanctuary's co-founder, Rodolfo Orozco Vega, greet them and then work with them while they made treats and toys out of banana leaves and macadamia nuts for the macaws to enjoy.

The trip checked all of the most important boxes. Our kids pushed themselves out of their comfort zone. New experiences were plentiful. And, most importantly, the bonds between our students grew that much stronger.

Enjoy some of the best pictures from our adventures in Costa Rica: 
(Click on any thumbnail below to see the full-sized image.)