THE MIDDLE SCHOOL EXPERIENCE

On Roatán Island 

                  

 

The Overseas Research Center (ORC), founded in 1967, is the oldest international program in continual existence at Wake Forest University (WFU), and was originally designed primarily for undergraduates. Beginning in the summer of 2000, however, Dr. Evans formed the ORC-LLC, a privately owned company that is entirely separate from Wake Forest University and two classes of Middle School students and their respective teachers from The Summit School of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, were invited to Roatán Island, Honduras. In June of 2000 they participated in a pilot project at La Casa Promesa, located on the property of the Evans family, known as Ruby Lee Ridge. This privately owned estate, consisting of 20 acres of beautiful highlands and low tropical forest, is situated in the very center of the island, and is surrounded with truly spectacular views of not only the mountains and the beaches on both shores, but with ghostly glimpses of the rugged mainland of Honduras some 60 miles to the south.

The Middle School Pilot Project was considered by all to have been highly successful, and has been established as a regular opportunity for students and teachers at Summit School. After careful consideration, the director of the ORC-LLC has decided to offer this experience to other Middle Schools, beginning in the spring and summer of 2001.

 Summer 2000

The students, escorted by their teachers, arrived from Miami and were met at the Roatan Island Airport by the ORC director, and taken eleven miles up-island to Ruby Lee Ridge. Upon reaching the estate, students selected their bunks, stored their luggage, and hit the pool. The teachers, Dr. Evans, and his two assistants met to discuss plans for their weeklong adventure.

Each day classes were taken to a different part of the island and participated in the planned activities of the day. This included events such as a lecture from a marine biologist and archaeologist, followed up with a snorkeling trip to the north reef to experience firsthand the marine plants and fauna described in the brief lecture and the colored plates provided to each student; a trip to the famous mangrove forest where, in wooden dugout craft known locally as dories, students and teachers were transported through ancient tunnels, said to have been hacked through the dense mangroves several centuries ago by pirates and buccaneers, who used this beautiful island as their base for raiding Spanish shipping lanes and the colonial seaports on the mainland of Central America. According to old island folklore, sea raiders of that time, such as the famous Henry Morgan and John Coxon buried treasure on Roatan, and it was Coxon who left his name for the island’s capital (now spelled with an “e”)… “Coxen’s Hole”. This infamous pirate sacked the strongly fortified Spanish colonial seaport of Portobello in Panama, coming away with vast quantities of gold and silver. Later crossing the Isthmus on foot, John Coxon, with but a handful of men, then stole treasures brought across the Pacific Ocean from the Orient aboard the huge but clumsy Spanish Galleons. He then sailed off into the Pacific, never to be heard from again.

Students also visited the Roatan Institute for Marine Sciences (RIMS), where they spent valuable time in the Museum, listened to a lecture on the bottlenose dolphin, and were then taken out to the training area where each student experienced friendly dolphins face to face, touching them, and receiving a kiss from one named “Copan”. The dolphins put on a private show just for their young guests, and the Summit School students rated this day high on their list of favorite experiences on Roatan.

Included in their week’s visit was a trip to the village of Pollytilly Bight on the north shore of the island. Met by the teacher of the school, and a group of children their age, the Summit School students were introduced by their island counterparts to their school and the day ended with a terrific game of dodge ball.

The director and his staff greatly enjoyed the collective enthusiasm of the middle school students. Each day was a new opportunity for these young minds to encounter a world they have only read about. Whether that world lay beneath the sea, to be observed by the students while floating quietly above the beautiful coral reefs, or high on a mountaintop while standing in the teeth of the trade winds, or down in the small, thatched hacienda of a nearby neighbor, there was always something exciting and new to see, to do, to eat, to watch, to wonder about, and store away as pleasant memories for the future.

Even though each day was crammed with learning, fun, and adventure, there was always time to discuss the day’s events and answer the students many questions after the island cook’s excellent dinners. Every evening, as the sun dipped in flashy colors into the sea beyond the west veranda, students and their teachers headed for the pool for their “night swim”, often joined by two young Honduran boys their same age, sons of the Caretakers of Ruby Lee Ridge estate, and a great deal of Spanish-English chatter would erupt as the sun sank and darkness descended upon La Casa Promesa.

The goals of the ORC remain to educate the young, to explore the tropical environment around them, and to always design every day around each particular class and individual student’s interests and needs. For this reason it is now our policy to limit our Middle School classes to a maximum of 10 students and two teachers (or teacher and spouse). It would present no problem, however, should only one teacher wish to bring his or her class. Students will have supervision at all times, and the director, his assistants, and the estate’s friendly staff, are there to help teachers and students in any way needed.

 

We welcome inquiries from anyone, and will do our best to reply as soon as possible. For additional information not found on the Home Page , Brief History, Roatán, or the Ethnographic Field School sections of this URL, please Email the director.

ORC Director, Email dkevans@wfu.edu

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