First Presbyterian Christian Academy Principal Shannon Hickey wants to ensure FPCA students receive a global education to prepare them to live and work in an all-encompassing society. She recently led five students and seven adults on a service trip to Costa Rica.
“We try to do a trip abroad every year,” said Hickey, who explained this was the first year they did a service trip, which she distinguished from a mission trip. “We’re trying to establish a service program. For this trip, we connected with another school out of Michigan. We were part of a bigger group of 32.”
She said they went to Palo Seco Island on the Pacific side of Costa Rica, which is north of Panama on the southern tip of Central America.
“They have terrible rip currents there, and they’re losing a lot of farmland to erosion,” she said. “Part of our service was to educate the people in the community about replanting mangroves along the shoreline, rather than depending on sea walls.”
They built a nursery to hold the young seedlings for seven common mangrove trees. Each type of mangrove tree serves a specific purpose, she said, adding that the travelers did “a lot” of digging.
The students also learned to distinguish good coconuts from bad ones and moved an entire house that had fallen due to flooding. Hickey explained, with a laugh, that the trip’s participants accomplished so much while they were there that Education First Tours, their sponsor, wasn’t sure what to task the students with to keep them busy.
A mixture of FPCA middle- and high-school students made the trip, Hickey said. The other school’s students all are in high school.
The excursion also included a visit to a Costa Rican school — a one-room schoolhouse that accommodates more than 20 first- through sixth-grade students. Although the conditions of the school were rudimentary at best, according to Hickey, the FPCA group was impressed by the mini-farm the school runs.
The school system there emphasizes agriculture. Hickey said she could not imagine anyone going hungry in Costa Rica because of the government’s efforts to develop eco-friendly agriculture practices and because the tropical environment naturally produces more fresh fruit than the nation can export.
She said she doesn’t know much about the country’s government but said it appears that citizens are a priority. Hickey said the group’s tour guide, Freddie, had only good things to say about his country’s government. By American standards, Costa Rica might seem like a poor nation, but Hickey said everyone she met had cell phones, and their families had televisions.
The American students interacted with the Costa Rican students in a soccer game, which broke down language and cultural barriers. Hickey noted, however, that all FPCA students take Spanish classes, and the Costa Rican students are required to learn English, so communication wasn’t much of a problem, anyway.
“It was a great trip,” Hickey said. “It was a great learning adventure for the kids. All too often, American kids and adults take for granted what we have. This is a global society now. There is more to learning than just what’s in books. I think when you see something for yourself, it’s so much more meaningful.”
She said FPCA has partnered with the school they visited and will begin collecting school supplies and clothing for that school this fall. FPCA students will take an educational trip this spring to Ireland, England and France. Hickey hopes the next service trip, scheduled for two years from now, will be to Ecuador.