Synergy School Puerto Rico
February 11-12, 2022
We arrived at the airport at 8pm and checked in our bags. Some of us were excited, some were nervous, some were tired. Once we got through security we had some free time to buy snacks, chill, hang out. We boarded around 10, and took off at 10:30. This plane ride went buy pretty fast and since it was nighttime, we could see all the city lights which were beautiful.
We had a layover in New York, which was super fun. The next flight to Puerto Rico was the same length (5 hours). I’m not gonna lie, felt as long as science class (no offense Jeff). Once we landed we collected our bags and got in our groups. Then we met our awesome group leaders and ate pizza on the bus ride to The Big Yellow House.
Once we got there we set up our rooms, then it started raining so we all went outside and played some sports together. We had a nice conversation of ice breakers afterwards, along with an orientation. We ate dinner, chilled for a bit, and then watched the Zac Effron movie about Puerto Rico while eating cake to celebrate Pat and Marek’s 14th birthdays.
A lot of us fell asleep immediately afterwards because of jet lag. It was a super fun day, our teachers and leaders made it really special for us.
February 13, 2022
We started with a breakfast of pancakes, eggs, ham, turkey and waffle fries at 7:00am, then packed our day bags and got on the bus. It was a long ride, and a bit hot, but totally worth it when we arrived….at the bathrooms. Luckily, we got into the bus again to go take a tour of San Juan.
We started by looking and learning a bit about the walls around the city, then went to go see the 5 feet wide, 32 feet deep and 36 feet high house! We took a picture, and walked up to look at the statue about how the women and children scared away the English. There were two cats sleeping on the statue, and three across the street. We walked past many colorful buildings before arriving at Fort El Morro.
We had time to explore, and personally, I took that time to seek shade from the sun. We met up at the fort entrance and walked to the restaurant where we ate lunch. We ate our fort meal of Puerto Rican food – meat and plantains while we talked and laughed then walked to see the next fort. We had less time at this one, but they had a dungeon, and room that the soldiers would live in!
After we found everyone and left the fort, we walked through the streets, and went souvenir shopping. We shopped at two places, both with products from local Puerto Rican artists and makers. There was jewelry, prints, statues and practically everything. We stopped to get ice cream from an ice cream truck, and went on our way and drove home.
After that most of the group went to the beach to swim in the ocean, and the others hung around the house, as Ishaan and an instructor tried to figure out the TV so we could watch the Super Bowl. We had a pasta dinner before going over tomorrow’s plan. We watched a 20 minute documentary about Hurricane Maria before watching the Super Bowl. After that, it was time to go to bed. We were happy and exhausted from a great day.
February 14, 2022
Our Valentine’s Day started with a breakfast of waffles and eggs. We got to sleep in an extra 30 minutes because we had stayed up late to watch the Super Bowl, which we were very excited about. We left at 8:30 for the long, long, bus ride to Eye on the Rainforest for our first day of service.
During the bus ride we had countless sing-alongs, some of the highlights were ‘The Duck Song’, ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’, and ‘Don’t stop Believing’, until we eventually annoyed the trip leaders enough that they turned on the radio, although, as we later realized, all the songs had the exact same beat (reggaetón music of Puerto Rico).
We arrived at the rainforest an hour and a half later, and were given the tour. We learned about the destruction that happened during Hurricane Maria. Our class’ favorite part of The Eye on the Rainforest were the composting toilets!
Our task for the day was to dismantle rotten wood from a stage in the forest, and to trim back weeds. We were helping to make space for a new environmental project that is going to be put in this space. As a team, we broke off the planks of wood from the old stage with crowbars, and gathered them into a pile to burn. Leo and Zara made a bonfire base out of the dead planks that quickly became a six foot tall tower.
Over by the entrance to the stage in the clearing, several students donned long sleeves and started cutting away at weeds and vines. They were making incredible progress until they met there worst foe yet. Saw grass! This terrible weed caught on their clothes and made it hard to move.
While the trimmers were hacking away at the foliage, the people dismantling the stage and building the fire were dealing with their own problems. Fire ants. These pesters would crawl up the students shoes and make their way to whatever flesh was closest, usually the workers’ ankles. The horrible insects sunk their mandibles into the workers, leaving a painful bit. This was what working in a rainforest is like.
After a hardy lunch of rice, bean, meat and salad, we were on our way back to the house. After a nice soak in the ocean, we ate dinner, placed some games and went to bed.
-Mica & Leo
February 15, 2022
The start of day started out with an extra hour of sleep, then going down to the long table to eat frittata, hash browns, and sausages. After breakfast, kids went up to their rooms to pack their bags for the day. Some supplies included gloves, water, and long pants.
The bus ride there was, to the joy of many kids, the shortest trip so far. We had beautiful views of the Island. When we arrived kids were struck with the challenge of very steep hills. After some time everyone made it to our work site, and we got a talk on safety in the workspace and how we were benefiting the community. Because William, the owner of the house we were working on, only spoke Spanish, Zach very kindly translated everything for us. (Thanks Zach.) We were working in William’s home that got damaged in hurricane Maria.
After that we got into our work groups and started working on the roof. We were making concrete. Some got assigned shoveling sand and rock into wheelbarrows that another group was wheeling onto the roof. The other half of the group were on the roof, helping put the sand and rocks in piles.
After a while of making the piles, some people began to shovel the materials into buckets to pour into a mixer, which would mix it into concrete with other materials. This was then poured on the floor to make the roof.
Everyone was working hard in the sun, and by lunch everyone was so tired, so we headed down to Angle’s house where Maria (his wife) had prepared a wonderful lunch for us. In the lunch there was rice, chicken, and mac n cheese.
When we went back home, everyone went to the beach and enjoyed the beautiful sunset. After, we all had dinner, which included chicken, steak, fries, and macaroni salad. When we finished dinner, we cleaned up and headed to the deck for a salsa lesson. Everyone had an amazing time dancing and enjoying the music. Finally, we all got ready for bed and went to sleep.
-Alexandra and Zara
February 16, 2022
At the beginning of the day we had bread with powdered sugar, mini pancakes, a frittata, fruit, and juice. At 9 o’clock we hopped into the bus and travelled to the work site.
Today we already knew what we needed to do so we jumped right into it was were very efficient.
While we were there, it started to rain really hard for around 1 and a half hours. During that time we had to run up and down to get snacks and backpacks even though it was pouring. We ended up driving to Angel’s house and eating lunch with his family. We ate rice, beans, chicken, and tostones (it was really busting).
Yesterday, Angel told us about what happened and his experience during hurricane Maria and what he learned from the experience. The first thing he shared with us were some pictures that he took maybe just a few hours after the hurricane died down. Most of the pictures were of the destruction that the hurricane had caused and what the community looked like before and after the hurricane. It was shocking. Whole homes were destroyed.
He then told us his personal experience with how he felt during and after the hurricane. One specific story he shared with us was that he saw his neighbors house blow up. Luckily the neighbors were safe because they were in the only room made of concrete. He also added that the community had to help each other, meaning no one from the U.S.A. or the government can to help.
He told us that the news did not share the whole sorry being that many more people had died. Apparently a few thousand. Many of them died because of the lack of electricity for up to a year after the storm. It was intense to hear hos story and inspiring.
We came home and went on a walk to a lookout point over the ocean. Ot was beautiful and we took a lot of pictures.
For dinner the leaders ordered pizza and there was a salad too so we could be healthy.
-Malea and Katie
February 17, 2022
Today we had our last day of service work. When we woke up, a few of us sat around the upstairs living room talking about weird dreams that we had. We had waffles, yogurt, fruit, hash browns and more for breakfast. We ran around the house (doing things that we should’ve done earlier) before getting into the bus that led to Villa del Rio.
We jumped right into our service work, since we had been partially rained out the day before. We made our last buckets of cement and our last hauls of sand and stone (which was stopped twice for short rains) before the cement machine was turned off for the last time. We shoveled sand and stone to the top of the roof for the next group of volunteers, which was hard work but fun.
We tried to break long metal sticks into pieces (you had to practically tackle the handle on the machine for the sticks to break) before breaking and listening to music. We then spent about 15 minutes leaning over and tying the metal frame with wire, before running out of places to tie the wire on and then spending 5 minutes walking around on the roof, leaning over while looking for untied frames, really hungry.
Finally, we were really happy to know that lunch was here! The food was SO GOOD and well deserved, since we had finished building earlier than they had expected. We drove back to Cerro Gordo and everybody went to the beach. Zaiden taught us how to body surf and I wiped out a bunch of times, getting too much sand in my hair. There ended up being four groups of people: the people sitting on the beach and eating snacks; the people who were body surfing (subdivided into categories of who was and wasn’t wiping out); the people who were building something in the sand; and the people (including me) who were floating in the ocean like jellyfish.
When I decided to stop being a jellyfish, I attempted body surfing again (decide for yourself whether I failed or not) and attempted to steal snacks from the part of the class that was sitting on the beach. When I went over to see what sand castle that some of the boys were building, I was shocked that they weren’t building a sand castle. Noooo, instead of a sand castle, they decided to build a sand kingdom. It was actually impressive – when you looked at it from above, it was like a map from the front of a fantasy book. We all left for the house a few minutes later, and having spent two hours in the water, we had a lot of sand in our hair.
We had two hours to (1) shower; (2) clean our rooms ; and (3) write letters to the people we had worked with over the past three days in the community.
When it was 7:30, everybody magically appeared at the dinner table, and we had a pasta dinner. We read our letters out loud to the people of the community and we all thanked each other for the work we had done. It turns out, they fully expected us to not finish the work since we’re 8th graders, but we finished early and did extra work; we work so well together. Community members talked to us about how important it is to stick together and help your community because at times that is all we can have. Wheel bearing meaningful and we now all have somewhere we can visit if we come back to Puerto Rico!
We all reflected on our time working, took a photo, did some palm reading and seeing the future, and then went back to our rooms to clean up since we’re going to a different place to stay tomorrow.
We cleaned our rooms, sang ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ about 5 times on separate occasions, and decided to try and eat all our leftover food since we have to finish most of it before tomorrow. So now we’re all trying to eat ice cream, popcorn, cookies, etcetera before tomorrow while I’m typing this. This was a really fun trip so far, and the only bad thing that I can think of is that the mosquitoes have attacked everybody, but it’ll be fine. Tomorrow we are going to the rainforest, swimming near a waterfall, and kayaking in a bioluminescent bay. I can’t wait!
It’s 10:01 PM here, so it’s past time for bed and I’m really tired. Bye!
February 18, 2022
Our last full day in Puerto Rico started with a delicious breakfast. We packed up the Big Yellow House and headed to another area of the island called Luquillo. We did our last souvenir shopping and went out to a delicious lunch. We loved all the variations of plantains that Puerto Rico has to offer. Tostones, sweet plantains, and mofongo.
Then we got to go on an adventure! We drove to El Yunque rainforest to meet our guides. They handed out life jackets and helmets and we started trekking into the jungle. Our shoes got stuck in the mud and although we tried to tiptoe around it, there was no way to stay clean. We got covered in mud and ended up embracing it. We got to stop at a big natural pool to swim and then each of us summon the courage to take the rope swing into the deep water! It was awesome. Soaking wet, we drove to our new hostels and got ready for our next adventure of the day, night kayaking in the bioluminescent Bay. Before we took off we had an insane dinner of ribs and plantains! We could have kept eating them forever. During the kayaking, maneuvering the kayaks in the dark canal’s of the mangroves was challenging, but we got the hang of it. When we got to the Big Bay the guides to put a tarp over our heads so that we could move our hands in the water and see the bioluminescence sparkle.
It was a super long day and once again we were wet. We drove back to our hostels for a great night’s sleep before our airport day tomorrow!