Monday, March 21, 2011
Never a Vacation from Learning
Here are some random experiences and reflections from our recent trip to Puerto Rico:
As I did last year, I visited the Jane Stern Dorado Community Library. While my sister-in-law registered as a seasonal borrower, I took the opportunity to chat with some of the staff members. I learned that the collection was begun by American professionals, relocated to Dorado for their jobs in pharmaceutical companies, who donated their personal libraries to the town when they returned to the States - hence the preponderance of English-language books.
Young people throughout Puerto Rico receive a bi-lingual education, but the library is currently building its stock of recreational reading materials for older, Spanish-speaking, users. There is a computer room, with a nominal fee for Internet access. Members of the Community Library are given passwords which enable them to use personal laptops within the building, free of charge.
Interesting sounds lured me to a pre-school mother/child session, where tiny tots were happily banging away on an assortment of musical instruments. The mom in charge assured me that I'd be a welcome volunteer for story time, if I happen to return again next year.
Before leaving home, I had contacted Mrs. Nancy Escabi, Headmaster/Director of Dorado Academy. At her invitation, I spent some time touring the school and learning a bit about education in Puerto Rico.
Dorado Academy is a private institution, originally founded by American ex-pats ("continentals"), but now maintained and supported largely by local families. Since the school is totally funded by tuition, the budget crisis plaguing the U.S. is not a factor here. All core subjects are taught in English, with some leeway allowed in "specials" like art and physical education. The only mandatory non-English courses are Spanish Language, and the History of Puerto Rico.
Students wear uniforms (as do all children that we saw, whether in public or private schools), in this case navy skirts or slacks, white polo shirts, and black shoes. More casual attire is allowed for gym classes and special dress-down days. Although the school is not air-conditioned (electricity is very expensive), an interior courtyard and louvered windows, help maintain a comfortable temperature. The gymnasium is constructed like a garage, with doors that can be raised to allow air circulation.
Mrs. Escabi, a native of New York City, is of Pueto Rican heritage. When I described where in NYS I lived, she reminisced about taking a ride on the Lake George steamboat, Minne-Ha-Ha, which docks just a few miles from my home! She is very attuned to current trends in education, and hopes to acquire eReaders for her two libraries. As with the public library, the school library collections are mainly in English: families recognize that their children's future depends on language fluency and the academy responds accordingly. The students I met in the hall were friendly and well-behaved, a credit to their school and their community.
Again, should I return to Dorado, I have an open invitation to volunteer. Perhaps there will be opportunities to connect online, as well.
Sometimes the best vacation memories are unplanned. While on a visit to El Morro, in Old San Juan, we saw hundreds of children flying home-made kites. The steady, strong breezes off the ocean were perfect for this outdoor activity.
Then, at the local Saturday beach party, someone alerted us that whales were jumping offshore, a rare occurrence for Dorado. Although I wasn't able to capture the event with my camera, it was a thrilling experience to see the huge splashes, knowing what they represented.
Once again, we were warmly welcomed by the year-round residents of Dorado. They invited my husband to watch boxing matches on a projection TV screen, outside, under the stars. We sampled local food and agreed that rum and coke is a proper beverage for tropical climates. There was the traditional Friday night poker game, passionate domino competitions, and stunning sunsets to share.
I don't speak Spanish, but I'd love to learn how. It seems to be a language made for conversation and laughter. It suits our Puerto Rican friends. I will miss them.
Animoto of our trip to Dorado, Puerto Rico
"Reflections by the Sea" by dmcordell
"Popular fiction, Jane R. Stern Community Library" by dmcordell
"Courtyard sculpture, Dorado Academy" by dmcordell
"Flying kites" by dmcordell
"Playing on the beach" by dmcordell