Day 4 – Rafting, surf and turtle habitat restoration

It’s really Day 5 and blogging has slowed down to a crawl, so bear with us while we get caught up.  We left our home away from home, Villas Rio Mar today and have just arrived at the hostel in San Jose.  Everyone is getting settled in with dinner and then we’ll conclude the day with reflection from this magnificent week. A recap of Day 4 from Matthew, Claire and Diego.

Matthew C.

Today, we the sophomores traveled to the beach called Hacienda Baru. There, each of us did some volunteer work to help out the community. Some people painted signs and others cleaned the beach, while my group went around constructing a few posts to help identify where the turtles lay their eggs. First, our tour guide told two of us to carry a log and drag it toward an open location. Once we were at the location, two more people were needed to paint the log with a number so the workers could keep track of where their eggs are. A fifth and sixth person were needed to do the shoveling in order to insert the post onto the sand. After awhile, the two people would rotate. All of the holes needed to be dug up to the end of the shovel. Digging up sand was a lot of hard work and needed a lot of strength put into it. There was even a few times where the ground would cave in. Despite that, it was a lot of fun to do. Once everything was completed, we would altogether lift up the post into the hole and surrounding it with sand. In the end, it was a good feeling to be giving back to the community for letting us stay in Costa Rica with such amazing company.

Claire K.

What an adventure this trip has been! Following our three whirlwind days of smaller group activities, the format today was a little different. For me, that meant spending the morning at Hacienda Baru, a wildlife preserve home to more biodiversity than more of the United States and Canada combined (insane to fathom). One of the special programs they facilitate there is the safety of sea turtles on their beach; they maintain safe nesting grounds and feeding areas so that the turtles can continue to use that beach to reproduce. Our group spent the morning cleaning the beach, placing beach markers, and turning over sand in the pits at the turtle hatchery. I helped to remove coconuts and palm fronds littering the beach, and then was transferred to the hatchery sand pit. The pit is about five or six feet deep, completely filled with sand. We had to dig ditches through that sand, which is hard work in blazing sun and suffocating humidity. The sweat was unbelievable – I didn’t even know that my body could hold that much water! Getting water poured on my head helped, but that labor just about killed after the other busy days. But, all my friends were just as tired as I was, which was a positive, and it helped to have the support of the group. We all cared about each other, and made sure that all of our classmates, friend or not, were okay and having a rewarding experience. After returning to the hotel for lunch, most of our group took off on a white-water rafting trip, which sounded like lots of fun.

However, I stayed behind with a few others to take surf lessons. I had never surfed before in my life; the closest I ever got was when I was around twelve or thirteen, when I was obsessed with Bethany Hamilton and Soul Surfer. But, despite the fact that it seemed absolutely terrifying, in the spirit of trying new things, I did it. I felt safe taking that plunge and just going for it. And you know what? It was probably one of the most fun things I have ever done in my entire life. Granted, the surf instructor was helping to push me into the wave, but then he’d let go and yell “UP!,” and it was all on me. I did wipe out a fair number of times, but it was all worth it for those times when I was able to stand and ride a wave all the way into shore. This trip has been all about risks for me, and learning that it is totally fine not to be perfect all the time. I’ve learned that you can miss so much if you are too nervous to try anything new, a philosophy I hope to remember as we travel home. The most important lesson: when you take that plunge, you will never regret it. ¡Pura vida!

Diego C.

Today, half of the sophomore class adventured into the depths of the Costa Rican landscape to then be let out at the site of a gaping river. As we begun the orientation, I found myself in a group of gaggling teenagers (an experience I had grown used to). These people were the ones who had my back in any situation and in any time when I needed a shoulder to lean on, they were there for me. The groups settled their members and made way to the flowing river where the guides awaited in a professional manner for us. I could see myself getting nervous because every time that I have gone rafting, I have either fallen out of the boat to have a rock waiting for my head to smash it, or getting so cold that I could not breathe. We hopped in the raft and set sail for the embarking journey down the river. Sitting on the side of the raft looking into the jungle and marshlands was an opportunity like no other. I was able to take in the wildlife around me. I was able to see what Costa Rica was like with the eyes of somebody who has entered a new place with no previous knowledge, without people telling what it was and what it was like through somebody from this country, and I couldn’t get enough of it. I wanted to never leave this amazing country where big cities did not make their mark on a map. This place was secluded from the world, a world where everything is moving at the speed of light with no end to it. This place was heaven placed on earth. This experience in Costa Rica has been one that will never leave my mind. I have connected with so many people and created new bonds as well. Being from a face-paced city, it was a nice sigh of relief to be in a place where the adventure never ends.

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Day 2 – All about service

What a day!  We are on the second day of our rotation.  For today’s blog, the focus is on our visits to local elementary schools Escuela Barú and Escuela de Platanillo.  (Our third rotation school was Escuela Puerto Nuevo, a tiny one room, one teacher school with a total of 14 students- an updated set of photos are below.)  We arrived mid morning and immediately got to know the Costa Rican students through games like soccer and hopscotch.  After polishing up the schools with a fresh coat a paint on a few walls and helping refurbish classroom furniture our Convent and Stuart Hall boys and girls handed out the school supplies that they had brought to Costa Rica.  The days were rounded out with a trip to the local swimming hole complete with a rope swing. Four of our students recap their day:

Trinity L.

Today, on our second day of rotation we visited some elementary school students at Escuela de Platanillo. During the service section of the rotation we had the opportunity to interact with some of the students and refurbish some school furniture. In the beginning I was pretty nervous about interacting with the students in Spanish. However once we started to interact with them it became much easier. I taught my new friend, Daira, how to say “You and I are friends” in Mandarin and she taught me in Spanish. By the end of our time at the school, the students and I had become great friends. One day I hope to see all of them again.

Gabriella T.

During our espacio this morning, we were told to do something uncomfortable while doing our activities. Today was our service day and we visited la Escuela de Plantanillo. We played with the kids and refurbished their desks. One of the struggles we had was speaking to the kids. The language barrier was hard because the kids spoke little to no English. We tried to communicate with them as best as we could and frequently used hand movements to try to act out what we couldn’t say. Overall, the students seemed so grateful and it was so nice to get out of our comfort zone.

Nicholas C.

Today was our second day of our trip in Costa Rica, and it was a very special day for everyone. We visited the Escuela de Platanillo where we met little children from that school, and help out with the school. At first we met the children and they led us down to their soccer field where we created teams, and played against each other. I was the team captain of my team, and to be honest my team was really good. After we went up, and we painted the walls of the school, and varnished the desk of the classrooms. We gave the children notebooks and pencils, but the highlight was Carlos Armendariz and Adrian Medina who gave their shoes to two kids. At the end to cool of the heat we visited a waterfall, which was a lot of fun.

Adrian M.

On our second day of transitioning, we visited Escuela de Platanillo, where we did some service for the kids around the school, played soccer, and handed out supplies. Not only was this day special for the kids, but it was also special for me as well because I got to find out who I really am as a person and how  blessed I really am. It was also special  because out of the kindness of my heart, I gave my soccer shoes to one of the most talented soccer players in my eyes. The fact that once I handed him the shoes and he asked for me to sign the shoes, made feel really special. We took pictures, we ate and once everything was over we went to relax at a waterfall and had some fun and swam. I will always remember this special moment forever.

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Third Rotation: Escuela Puerto Nuevo.




Class of 2016 in Costa Rica – Travel Day and Day 1

We have arrived safe and sound here in Costa Rica at our hotel in Dominical, Costa Rica.  After a delicious dinner and some sharing of thoughts like “hopeful”, “excited” and “curious”, everyone slept super well.  Our first day of adventures where we’ll rotate to one of these three activities: zip-lining at Hacienda Baru, horseback riding with a visit to waterfall at Nauyaca Falls, and serving a local elementary school in our Community Service rotation was exhilarating. We’ll be featuring one rotation these next three days. Check back often for more photos and stories from the students as we upload them when time and our access to internet allows.

TRAVEL DAY Snapshots (United leg)
Airport Travel Day

Leg 2 travel day

Leg 2 travel day

Leg 2 travel day

SFO to Houston!

Airport Travel Day

Airport Travel Day

Here’s our United group photo at Houston headed to Costa Rica, ¡Pura Vida!
Group Houston

As part of our 3+ hour bus drive from the airport in San Jose to Dominical, we stopped by along the way to catch sight of a favorite tourist stop: crocodiles!

DAY ONE Rotation: Hacienda Baru and zip-lining with with Barat Group

Barat Baru Zipline

Barat Baru Zipline

Barat Baru Zipline

Barat Baru Zipline

Barat Baru Zipline

Barat Baru Zipline

Student Reflections:

Yesterday (Monday), my group went on a long but amazing day trip that involved horseback riding, swimming and cliff jumping, and even exploring the Costa Rican habitat. People who haven’t ridden horses before were worried about riding their first time, but the friendliness and compassion from the tour guides really gave these people the bravery they needed to just get on the horse and ride. Awesome experience, would do again #10outta10
– Frederick

The trip has pushed everyone out of their comfort zone in some kind of way. But the entire grade has been supportive and encouraging. Whether it was horse back riding, jumping off a waterfall, or zip lining, the trip has been amazing! I’m excited to work at the school and learn more Spanish. Everyone here is very friendly and is always willing to teach you something.

It’s me again. We had a wonderful day today, despite the hardships we had encountered. My team (team Stuart) went zip-lining today. We had a long and hot hike to get up to the locations, but the rides were thrilling and exciting. I enjoyed the bonding I had with everyone in my group, including my teacher Ms. Hellstrom. The nature was great, and I enjoyed seeing the beauty of Costa Rica today. #parraislife
– Frederick

The group learned about the history of this educational canopy and spied a baby sloth, monkeys and learned about the medicinal use of these “suture” soldier ants:

After dinner, some downtime and (plenty of food!) we celebrated with some traditional music and DANCING!


A great end to DAY ONE!

Check out tomorrow’s live streaming of our traditional Tico (Costa Rican) dancing presentation and activity on our CUBE page HERE.

Lots of Exchange Visitors

This Spring we had a number of visitors for the day visit us from international Sacred Heart Schools.  The Sacred Heart School in Atherton runs a large exchange program where more than a dozen students from schools in Australia, Taiwan, Germany, France and Spain spent 3-4 weeks in families at the south bay school.  Atherton students will visit in the summer.  We were lucky enough to host students here for the day giving us a great opportunity to make new friends and learn about Sacred Heart in places from around the world.  Our own Christian Garcia-Feuss and his family hosted a student from Barcelona two weeks in February and then went to Spain for two weeks in April.

Thanks to Norma Garcia for the photos.




written by Leon, Mitchell and Justin

In a blink of an eye, our week in London has come to a close. Each and every member of our team is going home with life-changing memories. From the streets, to the sites, to the science, no part of our trip was done for naught. In just one week, we immersed ourselves in the culture of London, learned about Anemone Pulsatilla, engaged in field work with world-famous scientists, (some of us) visited the burial site of Janet Erskine Stuart, and so many other things. Through these experiences, we bonded closer and closer together, not only as a class, but as friends. As the old saying goes, though, “all good things must come to an end.”


However, our team begs to differ. From our experiences this week, our interest in the field of botany/ecology has soared to new heights. We are excited to learn not only how plants affect us, but how we humans can positively affect the earth around us. In our minds, this trip to London was only the beginning of the road; we are all very excited for the upcoming two-year course.


To conclude, our group would first like to extend a special thank-you to Mr. Farrell, Ms. Simpson, and Ms. Yeh for accompanying us on this trip; we greatly appreciate how you made the “wise freedom” aspect of this journey tangible and evident. To Mr. Helms, we are very excited to study botany/ecology with you the next two years. We were all saddened that you were unable to come with us to London, but we thank you for giving us this little taste of what we will shortly be diving into. We would also like to recognize Mrs. Saltveit, Dr. Krejcarek, and the SSH community for supporting us throughout this whole process. Also, we thank you for letting us use this blog to share our thoughts and feelings about the trip. Our team would also like to thank Dr. Bruce Pavlik, Dr. Lisbeth Louderback, Dr. Sarah Barlow, Dr. Sara Oldfield, Dr. Bryn Dentinger, and Lawrence Trowbridge for making our trip such a great learning experience. We appreciate how you made your profound information so clear and concise. Finally, to our parents, thank you for providing each one of us with much-needed financial and moral support. We all deeply appreciate the lengths you went through to allow us go to London.


Without every single one of your individual efforts, this experience would not have been possible. Once again, we thank you for such a memorable experience.

Our last full day in the United Kingdom

Written by Leon Tsai ’17 and Michael Johnson ’16

Today, we ventured out to the Millennium Seed Bank in Wakehurst. The weather was rather damp today; it began to rain during our bus ride. Because of this, we had to miss quite a few outdoor exhibits. photo 2The Millennium Seed Bank is one of the largest seed banks around the world. It stores, protects, and conserves seeds for reintroduction into nature. Its impact is immense, in that if one particular species of plants becomes increasingly vulnerable, scientists will have the security knowing that seeds for that plant still exist. We ate lunch in the Seed Bank as 3 Following this, we returned to Richmond, and rode the Underground to South Kensington. Here, our group separated, with the girls going out for tea, and the boys exploring the Natural History Museum. For dinner, our team ate in an Italian restaurant with Mr. Vasquez, who was in London for a Sacred Heart conference.

It was after dinner where things became especially interesting for a few of us. Calvin and I (Leon) accompanied Mr. Vasquez to the University of Roehampton, where we also met Mr. O’Connor. Here in Roehampton, the four of us visited the burial site of Janet Erskine 4 This was an extremely touching moment for all of us; a wave of emotions flooded over us as we struggled to compose our thoughts. According to Mr. Vasquez, we were the first Stuart Hall students to ever visit such an important site in our school’s history. Calvin and I felt honored and humbled to be in the presence of our school’s patron, Mother 5

It is so surreal to imagine that this was our final full day in London. Despite the day’s magical moments, each one of us cannot help but feel a tinge of sadness in the air.

Another fantastic day of field work

Written by Calvin, Justin and Mitchell

Today has been are 4th day here at London, and our 2nd day doing field work with the Royal Botanical Gardens of Kew. We traveled to calcareous grasslands, or grasslands with chalky soils containing calcium. There we met up with Dr. Bruce Pavlik, Dr. Lisbeth Louderback, and Dr. Sarah Barlow. Dr. Barlow led today’s excursion on studying different species of flowers, animals, and grasses in Hertfordshire 40 miles north of London, and about the Anemone Pulstilla, also known as the Pasque Flowers. We learned that Pasque flowers are an endangered species of wildflowers that can only be found on chalky soil. After talking a bit to Laurence, the head park ranger of Ashridge Park, we hade ourselves a picnic on the grass near a big oak tree. Then, we continued our excursion to survey vegetation with Dr. Barlow. At 3:00 PM, we finished and took the minivan with Tom, our wonderful driver who drove us around all day and waited for us while we were at the parks, back to the hotel where we rested and recharged our batteries.

A full day at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Written by Isabella Pontecorvo ’17

Today was our first day in Kew Gardens, where we received a crash course in botany and learned how to identify the different parts of a plant in a more scientifically correct form. We had a brief break for simple English tea, which included chocolate biscuits. After our excellent tea and biscuits, we had a series of lectures that enunciated the difference between fungi and plants, taught us how much we depend on plants, and how we use plants in our daily lives. Later, after learning what we could do to help endangered plant species, it was time for lunch. Lunch was amazing, and we were astonished by the variety of goodies sent our way. Once we finished our meals, we headed out to the Kew Herbarium. A herbarium is a place where herbs and different species of plants are cataloged. It was utterly fascinating because some of the plants dated back over a hundred years. Our inside work was complete, so we headed out to the greenhouses in Kew. The gardens took our breath away, and were overflowing with diversity. One of the reasons Kew Gardens is so incredible is the way it is presented to the onlooker: Kew’s Victorian and modern buildings show us how the gardens have grown over time and how important it was, and still is today. Kew was extremely interesting and fun, but the gardens wore us out, so our caring adults took us out for burgers; which were fabulous, of course. Another exciting day in London complete, will we ever tire of this fantastic place?