Author Archives: GeorgeSchoolVoices

A Reflection on Life After Graduation

Sarah Kelly

by Sarah Kelly ’17 

On May 28 I graduated from George School. On August 17 I will be moving in to my dorm at Philadelphia University. This summer and the time I have had between these two dates has been probably the most exciting time of my life, as I gather up all my dorm supplies, meet new friends, find a roommate, figure out my schedule, go to orientation, and so much more.

But with this excitement, also comes anxiety. I grew up on this campus, from being at the George School Children’s Center, then Newtown Friends School, and then George School again. I have known some of my friends since I was 2 years old and a student in the Children’s Center. These 81 days between high school graduation and the start of my college career, have been and will continue to be strange. I am no longer a George School student, but I am still only barely part of the Philadelphia University community. This is the first time I will be in a community other than George School.

If I had to give advice to rising seniors of George School, or any high school for that matter, it is not to worry about this potentially awkward in-between time. Instead, use this time to focus and try to identify your own identity, not relating to what school or community you belong to. Although it may feel like you don’t belong to anywhere during this time, that is ok, because you learn a lot more about your own self during times like these. You will have plenty of time to shape your identity around a community in the next four, five, six, or more years in college. And if this task is too daunting, too scary, then don’t sweat it. Because once you are part of the George School community, you never really leave it. It is ok to be part of more than one community. Just do not let leaving this one, great, small, George School community make joining a new one difficult. Just because you graduate, does not mean you cannot talk to your old friends. Remember you are not alone, because everyone else is experiencing the same feelings you are. Trust me. I did too.

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Letting go of hierarchy: what I realized at my 20-year reunion

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This post originally appeared on www.DepthWorldwide.com

by Delilah De La Rosa ’97

A couple of weeks ago I attended my 20-year high school reunion. I went to George School, a Quaker boarding/day school (I was a boarder) in Newtown, PA. For those that are not familiar with Quakerism, no, it does not have to do with the Amish. It is a Christian-based religion that operates on the core belief that we all have the light of God inside us, ALL OF US. As G.S. explains on its website, “This straightforward, elegant idea basically means that everyone has the capacity to do good and the facility to be great. You just have to listen to that of God within you and recognize it in others.”

This core belief manifested in several ways while I was at G.S. (and still holds true today):

Everyone and I mean EVERYONE from students, faculty and staff addressed each other by their first name. This subverted the idea that teachers/staff/adults had authority over students.

Instead of being preached to or following orders/rules, our religious service was meeting for worship where we sat still in silence for quiet reflection, and if we felt moved, we addressed the people in the Meetinghouse with the inspiration coming through us.

Everyone, no matter what your economic status, had to do co-op, an on-campus service program where all students performed various tasks to help in the daily operations of the school; money saved through the program supported the school scholarship fund.

G.S. did not promote, in fact, rejected superstar culture academically, athletically and socially; cooperation/community instead of competition/hyper-individualism was stressed, thus, there was no valedictorian, sports hero or prom royalty. As a matter of fact, we didn’t have a prom. We had a senior-year dinner dance where all students had to ride a chartered bus to get to the dance hall in an effort to curb materialism and stratification among students.

While I came from a junior high school that instilled in me the importance of community, this high school experience challenged a core belief and overall consciousness I had deeply internalized: there is a hierarchical order to life. I held a (conscious and unconscious) belief that all living things were ranked in order of importance (i.e. the planet belongs to us humans, not we belong to the planet) and that some humans were better/worth more/mattered more than others. This originated from and was constantly affirmed by family, school, religion, culture and society.

Since this was true for me, I committed to the onerous, insatiable and futile task of being THE best (not MY best) so as to claim my position at the top of this hierarchy. I wanted to look the best, dance the best, be the coolest, be number one in my class. I remember that at the age of 9, I felt so humiliated for not receiving first honors after having so consecutively for a few years (beaten by the new girl in class) that I pleaded with my mother for me to not go back to school anymore.

So one can imagine how unfamiliar this idea of all of life matters PERIOD (no more, no less) was to me when I entered high school. You’d think it would offer a healthy reprieve from the consciousness I held that was causing me suffering. Instead, I resisted.

I wanted to continue being top of the class, but how could I be top of the class when there was no award ceremony or public announcement to honor those that performed the best academically? I was forced to focus on performing MY best without competition as the driving force; the driving force had to come from within. At the time, I couldn’t see how this would benefit my well-being and personal growth, and instead felt that the “fun” was taken out of the equation because I could no longer dominate.

I felt a bit shortchanged by not having a typical high school prom. After all, it would’ve been the perfect opportunity to showboat and see who could outdo who (with my striving to come out on top, of course).

I remember complaining to my advisor about the school’s lack of hierarchical culture (not in those words) and expressing my desire to go to an elite college institution that promoted exceptionalism, where I’d be among the best of the best. She responded with a reminder of G.S. values where “every soul is sacred and worthy of respect,” but in true Quaker fashion, didn’t force it down my throat.

Although I resisted, I was still immersed in this culture 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (most weeks) and it left its imprint. My driving force had to come from within, not from where I ranked among others. Inspiration became integral. I was able to connect with people from all walks of life in a meaningful way. I was able to connect with nature, which paved the way for what has become my love affair with trees. I was more emboldened in believing in goodness in all of life.

Experiencing life without the need for hierarchy was one of most liberating, creative, enriching, powerful and happiest times in my life. It was only when I held on to hierarchy that I suffered.

And yet, that’s what I did for many years after that, going to and getting caught up in the culture of an elite, top-ranking college and working in the entertainment industry where it’s unapologetically hierarchical and hierarchist. I became embroiled in the soul-sucking endeavor of being the best, being special, being on top (of others). I couldn’t resist the lure of hierarchy if it meant that I was winning.

In the last 10 years however, I started to develop an awareness of this being one of many ways to view and experience life, and that I was enmeshed in this particular consciousness. I started to see how this idea of there being a hierarchical order to life compromised my personal growth and well-being. I started to see how it caused suffering, being out of alignment with my true nature and the truth of we are one, and thus, real power that we all hold within. And more recently, I started to see the many factors–people, places and experiences–that fostered a sense in me of there being a consciousness that was more expansive, harmonious, loving and aligned with my truth, the truth.

When I went back to G.S. after nearly 20 years, I was deeply moved by the realization it was no accident I chose to immerse myself in a culture that challenged a limiting consciousness to which I was loyal. In my mind at the time of choosing to go to G.S., I was intrigued by the idea of going to boarding school, of independence, and having a college experience at the tender age of 14; I thought it was interesting and that it would look interesting, stand out as special. But I realized 20 years later that it was actually my soul’s way of having me experience a consciousness that was more aligned with my true nature and the truth.

I realized how much I resisted letting go of hierarchy, how I wasn’t ready to fully embrace this new consciousness at the time. The only way I knew to be powerful was to be exceptional, dominant, on top of the pyramid; I couldn’t comprehend there being another way to view and experience life. Since I longed for a sense of empowerment (like all of us) and held a distorted view of power, I felt the need to keep hierarchy in place, something I’d have to contend with along the path of embodying a new consciousness, the truth.

I also realized that while I can still hold on to hierarchy and vacillate between the old and new consciousness, I’ve been making my way back “home,” making a conscious commitment toward embodying this new vision of and approach to life that’s more aligned with the truth. This coming full circle struck me precisely as I stood in the Meetinghouse after 20 years. What I’ve come to know and embrace as my truth, the truth, and the several values and practices that keep me aligned with it, were rooted in this place. And I was destined to this place to make my way back home.

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Why I Chose the IB Program

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Teacher Kathy Rodgers helps with a class assignment. 

by Bea Feichtenbiner ’19

When I was about twelve, I started thinking about college. I was not sure of much, but I knew I wanted to go far, possibly even outside the country. My mom has a few friends who live in California and the school their kids go to offers the International Baccalaureate diploma. I first heard of it over the phone when I was in seventh grade. I looked it up and was drawn into the information I found.

The idea of having six subjects and having an equal balance in each interested me. At first, I worried about the arts, but I figured out that I could double in a subject to replace it. After thinking about it for a couple of months, I talked to my mom about my findings. I was really interested in getting this diploma. I was convinced it would make me a better student and wanted the opportunity to engage in this deeper level thinking.

She gave me the green light to go ahead and research schools. That’s actually how I found George School. When I got here, I was not sure what would happen. I did not know if I would change my mind and drop the IB idea. But two years later, I am a likely IB candidate. I plan to take two standard level exams, Spanish and Economics, and four higher level exams, English, Latin, Math, and Biology. The rest of my classes are a sprinkling of APs. I am doubling in language and not taking an art.

I know this is going to be very difficult, but I am prepared. The IB diploma is something I have been working towards for three years now. I love the thought of learning to think critically. I am anxious for a chance to write essays of deeper level thinking. I want to learn, but I don’t want to focus in one subject. I want to be a well-rounded academic and I feel like IB offers me more resources to do that.

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Arizona – Day 12

by Precious ’18

It’s day twelve on our trip in Arizona and school has ended, but it’s not over yet.

Today, we went to go help a friend of a friend (Leena’s brother, Jerome) on his farm. Unfortunately, because of poor weather the corn they had been growing didn’t grow well. So our job was to help replant the corn and weed the farmland. Oddly enough tumbleweeds are really strong. They don’t just tumble in the air like in western movies. Weird, right? Another group went to dig up tumbleweeds that may affect the corn that were planted. It took a few hours to complete both jobs.

After working hard through the early hours of the morning, we were rewarded with watermelon and hugs as thanks for helping out on the farm. Hugs are more rewarding than I thought. The group then visited a flea market in Tuba City. It was very hot and we were all sweating by the end of it. Many of us bought items such as blankets and jewelry. We then went back to the townhouse to go swim at the Kayenta Elementary School. It was very refreshing after hours of hard work in the fields.

There was also an opportunity to go to a powwow, and three people in our group danced in the middle of the circle to celebrate the Navajo veterans. Since we were hungry after, we went to the restaurant called The View, which is right near Monument Valley. We all had an amazing view while we were eating.

It was a great day all around, and we’re glad we could help one more person as our trip is rounding up. We’ll see everyone soon.

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Arizona

By Owen 

On Thursday after school the group took a day trip to Monument Valley, we drove through the valley in our SUVs which probably were not designed for the type of off-roaring the monument Valley loop included. For dinner we are at the View hotel, many of us had Navajo tacos and frye bread, one of our first experiences of actual Navajo cooking. On Friday morning we left for the Grand Canyon we hiked the Bright Angel trail which was approximately 1.5 miles down into the canyon and 1.5 miles back up. The hike was possibly the longest 3 miles anyone in our group had experienced. On Saturday we went on a float trip of Glen canyon, the bus ride to the docks included a trip through a U tunnel. The float trip itself was peaceful as we learned more about geology of the canyon as well as some facts about the shrouding and Native American history. The float trip paused at as a sandy beach on the river bank, where we got the chance to jump into the 47 degree water like typical George School students. On Saturday for dinner we went to Dam Bar and Grill, which was delicious. Sunday before leaving Page, AZ we stopped at Walmart to purchase school supplies for our kids at school. We also toured the Lake Powell Dam before heading back to Kayenta. I personally did not go on the tour, but heard it was interesting. For lunch on Sunday we stopped at a Texas BBQ restaurant which was in an old gas station building. We were forced to sit outside because we were a group of 15, but the canopy over the outdoor seating provided ample shade. The BBQ was delicious and he restaurant lived up to the standards of a classic Texas BBQ joint. It was a welcome end to our weekend in Page.

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Costa Rica – Final Reflection

By Pacho Gutierrez ‘77

Twenty-three years ago I led the first GS student trip to Costa Rica, a country that inspired me not only for its natural richness, but also for its dedication to conservation, sustainability, peace and social justice, among other things.  This was my 12th time taking students to this magnificent country.  As always, I left it refreshed and inspired.

Almost a quarter of a century will bring great change to any country, but it seems to be magnified in Costa Rica since it used to be so pristine.  Its population has grown by 47 percent between 1994 and 2017.  As Ticos gain in affluence, they buy more vehicles, build more roads, and construct more businesses.  This become greatly apparent as one travels the roads, there is construction everywhere.  The modern world is taking over, even a country where simplicity and unhurried lifestyle has been the way of life.

Costa Rica is doing its best to be a world leader in many fronts.  For example, and as was mentioned in the blogs, it was the first nation to reach 100 percent renewable electricity production in 2015, making it a leader in energy sustainability.  Almost one third of its territory is protected in some form or another from development or exploitation.  Ninety seven percent of its population has access to electricity and potable water. Costa Rica has one of the highest literacy rates in Latin America. It enforces conservation laws better than most other Latin American countries.  It provides health services better than most developing countries.  It has low crime and poverty rates.

Progress continues to spread over the planet.  Modern conveniences and amenities are encroaching the Costa Rican countryside.  For example, it used to be there was little or no cell service in rural areas, now it seems like there is WiFi connectivity in every room in every lodge, no matter how remote (Tortuguero).  Those eco-tourists demand their connectivity!

Ticos continue to soldier on with their respect for nature, for wildlife and for each other.  Animals move about unafraid or unconcerned with humans.  It’s like what happens with the GS squirrels, they are emboldened by the way they are left free to roam.

Ticos are humble people with a strong sense of family and solidarity with their neighbors, something that really struck a chord with our students.  The respect and cohesiveness they show with one another is refreshing and awe inspiring.  Sure, they have problems like everyone else, but they have a tranquility about them that is unique.

Ticos say Pura Vida! (literally: Pure Life) for everything: as a greeting, as a response, as an expression, as an invitation to be positive and jovial.  Its contagious, one can’t help to be happy around Ticos.  Pura Vida all around!

I hope they never lose their joy to live their meaningful lives!

 

 

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Costa Rica

by Kim Major 

As we sit on the runway in Atlanta it’s hard to not feel a bit wistful for the trip that is on the cusp of its finale. No gallo pinto tomorrow. No strong and amazingly flavorful coffee. No monkeys, exotic birds, or the deepest of greens all around. No smiles and holas from Erick and Enrique our guide and driver. No new adventures around the corner with sights that make me draw my breath in with a not-so-silent gasp.

No, it is back to life as I knew it. But, really, it’s not. Just like the students with whom I travelled, this experience has changed me. In our reflections, we often asked our students to frame their Costa Rica experience with a series of “what” questions: WHAT did I do (narrative), SO WHAT – how did this experience impact me, NOW WHAT – now that I’ve learned this, what will I do with this knowledge.

The WHAT has been thoroughly and beautifully covered by trip participants throughout the blog. I think the SO WHATs have been scattered with subtle awe throughout as well. For our students, I think the NOW WHAT is still forming – it won’t be until after re-immersion into day-to-day life that the impact can truly be known. As for me, over the course of the last 12 days, the NOW WHATS have come to me in dribbles and then, at times, in waves of what I like to call BFOs (blinding flashes of the obvious). Writing this blog entry gives me the opportunity to try to collect them in some coherent way. So here goes…

I studied French in school a long (very long) time ago. Aside from the occasional adios, I knew no Spanish. So, for months before the trip I tried my best to teach myself the basics of the language. After putting that to practice [some] and hearing it spoken all around me, I realized I want to learn the language not for the trip or future travel but because it is beautiful and I want to be the person who knows multiple languages, not the one who thinks everyone should speak mine. Now what? Now I continue to study the language with greater depth.

I have led service trips before with another school, but never internationally. In fact, aside from Canada (and sorry, dear husband of mine, Canada does not count) I had never before traveled internationally. Before this experience, I thought my top travel destinations were typical sightseeing spots in Europe or pure “fun” beach or ski vacations. But after visiting the cloud forest in Monteverde and the remote beaches of Tortuguero, and after immersing myself in the culture of a community off the beaten path, what I really want in future travel is to go to the places not as well traveled. To see flora and fauna that may not exist if we do not care for the environment. Sure, I want some time reading a book on a beach, but just as much, I want to look for more eco and adventure travel experiences – particularly those that, like in Costa Rica, serve to both enhance the local economy and provide resources to protect the environment.

Speaking of the environment, I was blown away by how Ticos and Ticas respect the environment. Ticos practice an environmental stewardship model of environmentalism by conserving, appreciating and valuing nature as ancient cultures did. I love George School, and we do an OK job with recycling but we have so much more we can do—particularly in the dorms. As a dorm parent, I want to do more to encourage my residents to consistently recycle. I have always cared for and about our natural resources, but I know I can do a lot more.

A more subtle NOW WHAT came through reading student journals. Students often remarked that they thought they would do more service on the trip, and then later noted all the learning about themselves and the outside world that had taken place. A big lesson for me is that if I have the opportunity to chaperone service learning trips in the future (my hand is already raised to volunteer), I can do a better job of framing the goals. In reality, in an 11-day trip, the total impact of the service a group our size can do is small. Minuscule, really. But, that does not mean it doesn’t matter. However, the purpose of the trip is not just service in the community—it is promoting shifts in thinking. If our students push themselves out of their comfort zones, they expand their worldview and may be more likely to stretch themselves to help others in the future. If they gain deeper understanding of and appreciation for different cultures and communities, they are more likely to reach out to strangers because they have seen firsthand that the differences between people really are not as vast as they might think they are on the surface. If they stand in awe of nature in a new way, they are more likely to work to respect and steward the environment at home. Sure, beach cleanups, playground rejuvenation and school visits have meaning, but I argue that the most far-reaching change that comes from trips like ours is the change inside each of us. I hope to do a better job of articulating that on future trips.

I am sure that for me, like our students, more lessons will come to me as the summer progresses. Parents, I encourage you to talk to your children about their NOW WHATs. Ask them to go beyond the store of photos in their phones. Ask them to describe the trip beyond the lodge reviews and review of the sites. Ask them about the impact on themselves. I know I will continue to ask myself what change will come in me from the trip. For now, however, I am so grateful that George School views experiences like this one as critical for students, I am glad I was able to participate in THIS trip, with THIS group, at THIS time. It was magical. And, I am certain of two things. First, I will return to Costa Rica. While I know I saw, experienced, and appreciated so much, I also know that the next time around I will see, feel, appreciate, and respect the country and its people even more. Like reading a great book, in the first pass you see it in broad, beautiful and inspiring strokes. The second? You notice the details, the nuances, the hidden beauty and deeper meaning you missed the first time. Costa Rica inspired me to see its details and, if I am lucky, more of the details in the world around me at home.

The other certainty? By the end of the summer I will find the winning gallo pinto recipe….

Thank you, George School, and 2017 Costa Rica service learning trip participants for a trip I will never forget!

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Vietnam

by Julian

Today is our last day in Hanoi. We began with a visit to an orphanage in Bac Ninh, right outside Hanoi. Due to scheduling conflicts, we were not able to do as much service as we wanted to, but we still swept their courtyard clean and left a positive impact on the children there. The orphanage is currently taking care of 22 babies and a number of students who happen to be deaf.

Children of all ages with different abilities greeted us and watched us as we worked. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with the babies there and I really admired the women who cared for them. Some of the babies had severe disabilities. Later in the afternoon, after a strange lunch with an overambitious host, we visited a highly prestigious high school in Ban Ninh. Their auditorium reminded me of George School’s, but it was decorated in red and had some busts of Ho Chi Minh and a few communist slogans. The school’s presentation of the opportunities they offer impressed me due to its location in a poor area of the city. I was overjoyed to interact with kids my age who were just as educationally apt as we were. We played games with the students and learned a lot about their everyday life at the school. Some of us exchanged social media info and they waved us good-bye with enthusiastic, kind gestures.

Later in the evening, we met up with Alex, my prefect this past year, who lives in Hanoi. His parents invited us all out to a very nice restaurant buffet/barbecue not far from our hotel. It was amazing to see my Vietnamese friends there (a few others from Hanoi/GS showed up) after two weeks of wanting to see them. We sang the George School hymn to Alex in honor of his graduation! I am excited to go back home, but I know I will miss moments like this one due to the quality of Vietnamese hospitality that we found in Hanoi and in every place we went.

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by | June 27, 2017 · 7:56 am

Vietnam

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by Tommy ’18

Today was the “free day” where we could go sightseeing and enjoy the city. As usual, we began with a delicious Skylark Hotel breakfast. After the satisfying meal, we hopped on the bus. We met our Vietnam-USA Society’s tour guide, Nga for the day. We headed to the taoist temple to see several shrines where people offered incense and food in an attempt to please the gods. We also witnessed two tai chi classes happening in the temple’s front courtyard. An annoying woman tried to sell us cheap fans for an atrocious amount of money. We next went to the West Lake buddhist pagoda. We saw more shrines where all statues of buddha were given offerings of fruit, cookies or money. After that, we treated ourselves to ice cream. The contrast between the temperature of my body and the ice cream resulted in a refreshing moment of balance for me. Devon went to a woman who was selling baby turtles and bought three of them. We walked over to the lake and threw them in, watching them swim away to freedom. We then boarded the bus and went for banh my or Vietnamese popular sandwiches on French bread. It was the perfect mix of ingredients. Since we were in a pedestrian district, we all walked around for about an hour. After we returned to the hotel, Paige, Juliette and I went clothes shopping around the Hoan Kiem Lake area, and ended up buying many articles of clothing. We ordered room service from the hotel. Paige and Juliette got pizza and I got a burger. I think burgers are the food that I miss the most from the USA. After dinner, we headed out to the night market and walked around the Hoan Kien area again. It was a much cooler night, the walk was very pleasant. We didn’t see a lot that interested us. We came back to the hotel and relaxed with some music in the girls’ room. At about 8:55 p.m., I headed down to my room and was totally exhausted, ready to go to bed.

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Costa Rica

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by Kevin

There is always something to be learned.  Isn’t that what we tell our students?  As adults and teachers we can generally anticipate their true needs as well as their desires.  Your children need to eat!  They desire connection to social media.  They need to set daily wake-up alarms.  Their desire is that we rouse them from their slumber in time to make it to breakfast.  Our students have been afforded the luxury of doing service in a country in which evaluating what is needed, verses what is desired, is a repeated thread in the fabric of the Tico’s way of life.

Today, after checking out of our tourist lodge, we visited an organic pineapple farm.  I was surprised to learn that I was woefully deficient in the actual facts involving the cultivation, organic needs, and eventual selection of the pineapples we purchase in the super market.  Four perfect pineapples were sacrificed to sate our desire for knowledge of the MD2 golden pineapple (Ananas Comosus) but the goal was accomplished.  Your children are now experts in how to pick the perfect pineapple and how to eat it!  This was a delicious learning experience.

I had the pleasure of delivering your children to their overnight homestays in San Isidro.  I hope that you will not think me unkind in the concealed joy that I took at observing them make their personal introductions to their families.  Moments later, as the adults were shaking hands with their overnight parents, you could see the uncertainty in their eyes and feel the desire, from most, to be spared this new experience.  For me, this was great theatre!  They will rarely be more present and truthful than in those moments.

What I relish in these closing hours of service are their final reflections.  As a group, they have done a marvelous job of bonding.  The overnight homestay visits touched each of your children in unique ways.  They understand now that they needed the visit to their rural families.  Families that have built their humble homes, from foundation to roof, with their own hands.  The pictures that we included in our blogs captured only the surface of a few moments that your child tasted, breathed and prayed their way through.  The changes were subtle.  They happened when they realized they were sleeping comfortably under three walls and an aluminum roof.  It happened as they were served freshly ground coffee dripping from a cloth filter with steamed milk.  It happened as they realized that Tico’s have opened their homes and way of life to the many and varied animals and plants that are native to Costa Rica.  Most noticed the way people in the community flow from house to house and the way Ticos focus on their families. Find the time to really listen to what your children have experienced.  When was the last time you were awakened by Howler monkeys, parrots, or a chorus of roosters on a fine weekday morning?  There have been so many new tastes, sounds and sights to compare and contrast.  In these closing hours before they return home to summer reading, chores, beaches, relatives and college visits, we will task them one last time to share and reflect on what they have lived with the hope that you will be the recipient of their trials and triumphs.

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