4th Graders Create Memories on Magical Vieques Island (St. John Tradewinds)
GHS 4th Graders Create Memories on Magical Vieques Island
Monday, 05 June 2006
Special to St. John Tradewinds
By Barbara Winch
4th Grade Teacher at The Gifft Hill School
As we boarded the barge to go to St. Thomas on the first leg of our
Vieques journey, I had no concept of what awaited my 4th grade
class. I could never have imagined the incredible experiences that
we would encounter which would bond this class together and create
memories for a lifetime.
I was truly blessed with the opportunity to take my students out of
St. John and to the magical island of Vieques, Puerto Rico. Ten
students, six parent chaperones, and I were on a grand adventure
from start to finish!
When we reached St. Thomas Airport, we were all a bit taken aback by
the extremely small plane that would carry half our group at a time
over the Carib-bean waters to Vieques. We climbed in a bit
apprehensively, fastened our seat belts, and very smoothly reached
Vieques half an hour later.
As we waited for the second group to arrive, we picked up our two
rental SUVs. I was "volunteered" to drive.
Driving around Vieques was quite an experience because they drive on
the right hand side of the road there. It was rather disconcerting
to pull out, immediately go to the left every time, and hear someone
in the back say, "Go on the right Ms. Barbara! Right!"
The Posada Vistamar Guest House in Esperanza was quaint, quiet and
very clean. The women who ran it were extremely accommodating to our
rather excited group.
After dropping off our things, we went to tour Fort Conde de Mirasol
Prior to our trip we had brush-ed up on the history of Vieques and
the U.S. Naval activity that had taken place there, but the talk
that Robert Rabin (professor and historian at the fort) gave helped
deepen our understanding of Vieques's vibrant history, and the
struggle the Puerto Rican people had to end the testing of Naval
bombing on island.
We all walked away with an immense feeling of awe at the destruction
that the U.S. had caused this beautiful island and triumph at the
solidarity of the people and their commitment to stopping this
We followed our tour with a hotdog and s'more roast at gorgeous Sun
Bay, and collapsed exhausted into bed very early! The next day we
went to the National Wildlife Refuge at Kiani Lagoon and met Vieques
National Wildlife Refuge Outreach Specialist Gisella Burgos for a
discussion on the ecosystem of the mangrove and moist forest.
It was very informative and the students learned a lot. She then
took us out onto the mangrove mud flats where the students got to
really "get into" the mud (literally!).
Gisella then escorted us to the munitions sites on the military
base. It was eerie to imagine them once full of bombs and
ammunition, and I was grateful to see them standing empty and
abandoned. When we left there it was time for dinner, so we took in
some local flavor at a restaurant called "Banana's" and fueled
ourselves for what was to be the highlight of the entire trip The
We chose these particular three days to visit Vieques specifically
because it was during the New Moon Phase, and we had heard that the
Bio Bay would be the most spectacular during this dark time. I can
honestly say that before this experience, I don't think that I even
knew what "spectacular" truly meant.
As Gerald Singer describes it in his dramatically beautiful
book: "Vieques: A Photographi-cally Illustrated Guide to the Island,
Its History and Its Culture:"
There was no moon and it was almost totally dark. It was really
dark. That is, if you didn't move. But we were moving. And
everything and I mean EVERYTHING was glowing and sparkling in
electric greenish and bluish-white light...Surreal... totally. And
the fish were leaving twisting psychedelic jet streams behind them
as they shot away from the intruders into their territory. And some
of the fish were pretty big. Even some sting rays. And they made a
really big glow. Wow, what an experience! Then we stopped and were
silent. The stars were shining above us and the air was crisp. It
was a perfectly clear amazingly beautiful summer night and...(we)
were there, in Mosquito Bay, in Vieques, in the Caribbean and on the
beautiful planet that we are fortunate enough to inhabit.
It truly was a "surreal" experience for all of us! When we raised
our arms out of the water it looked like tiny golden drops of light
trickling down. As well, the constellations, planets, and solitary
stars were outrageous! We played in the water, laughed, and were
awed by (and even cried at) the beauty of it all. It truly was the
most unbelievable experience that I have ever had.
On our last morning in Vieques, we went to the Vieques Conservation
& Historical Trust Museum to meet Educator Mark Martin. He showed us
the museum's unique aquariums and hands-on salt water tanks. Mark
explained about the sea creatures that were in the tanks, and the
students got to hold and examine them all up close.
It was an exceptional experience. We completed our trip with the
obligatory souvenir shopping in the local stores and readied
ourselves to leave this delightful island. The flight home was just
as smooth as the previous one, although a lot less exhilarating and
much more reflective on all our part.
When asked what their favorite part of the trip was they replied (in
unison, no less), "The Bioluminescent Bay!!"
As well they individually replied:
"My mom took me out farther in the bay and it glowed even brighter.
I'll always remember being with her in Vieques." Pace Knowles-
"We went to Sun Bay beach and roasted marshmallows together. It was
the first time I had ever done that!" Francine Francis
"The constellations were really bright. I liked how the stars
connected and made objects in the sky." Olivetti Samuel
"Climbing on the lifeguard stand at Sun Bay with all my friends. We
had so much fun together." Makenna Clark
"Learning about the fort and the history of Vieques was very
interesting. It made me realize how different this island is from
Puerto Rico even though it is so close." Chloe Jarvis
"Seeing the magazines where they used to store the bombs made me
really curious about what happened on Vieques. It's an important
part of the history of Vieques." Paola Davis
"Seeing all the fish glowing when they swam out from under the boat
at the bioluminescent bay. I had never seen anything like that
before!" Julien Doran
"Learning that the organisms in the bioluminescent bay were half
plant, half animal. It was really interesting to learn." Elena
"Seeing all the horses running around freely. There aren't that many
horses on St. John!" Coulter Conley
The amazing people of St. John must once again be thanked for their
generosity and kindness in helping us to achieve this level of
experience for these fourth grade children. After months of planning
and raising money, the life-long memories of this group of children
(and adults) far surpassed the work. Providing them with novel,
cultural and educational experiences is what this trip was all