PA Grant Report: Revising el Itinerario by Vicki Muñoz-Lepore
November 04, 2022
Every year, the MMFS Parents Association awards grants to faculty and staff members to pursue summer coursework, training, fellowships, and other professional development activities, including expenses for related travel. This is the first in a series of reports from grantees.
With the support of the PA Summer Grant, I was able to return to Puerto Rico one final time before taking our 11th and 12th grade students of Spanish on a culturally and linguistically immersive trip to the island this May.
The inaugural MMFS Puerto Rico trip was originally set to run for March of 2020 and was thankfully canceled just a few days prior to our scheduled departure due to the start of the pandemic. In the lead-up to that 2020 trip, I worked closely with Vámonos Tours, a local Puerto Rican tour company, beginning in 2018, to craft a culturally and linguistically immersive tour of the island for our upper school Spanish students. Fast forward to the spring of 2022 when Debbie authorized the return of domestic and international trips for MMFS. I reached out to her immediately to find out if this would also include a revival of the Puerto Rico trip for our 11th and 12th grade Spanish students. When she confirmed that plans for a 2023 Puerto Rico trip could resume, I found myself back in planning mode. The good news was I had a carefully curated itinerary already ready to go with the support of Vámonos. However, I knew that if there was a possibility of the trip running, that I would have to return to the island to see if everything that we had planned made sense for our students three years later.
I returned in the final week of our summer break with my mother and sister, and we reconnected with the tour company. (Important side note: My mom, also a high school Spanish teacher for close to 40 years, has taken her students on trips for as long as I can remember all over the Spanish-speaking world including Puerto Rico. She was the one who recommended Vámonos Tours.) The tour company took us around the island for two days. We revisited some places on the itinerary and also checked out new places including a coffee farm in the mountains of San Lorenzo as well as a local tropical fruit farm in Santa Isabel called Finca Don Manuel. At Finca Don Manuel, I got to be up close and personal with bananas, papayas, pineapples, and windmills. Something unique about Finca Don Manuel is that it was abandoned for many years and only recently was brought back as a working farm in 2013. The farm is also powered by the clean energy of massive windmills that scatter the tropical fruit landscapes. I was so impressed by Finca Don Manuel as a way for students to learn more about the island’s agriculture and what sustainability can look like that I added a visit to Finca Don Manuel to the itinerary. Additionally, as part of the visit to the farm, students will get to participate in a mofongo cooking class! After conferring with Debbie, she assured me that traveling students tend to love cooking classes and we shouldn’t pass that up! Through my conversations at the farm, I also learned about a relevant documentary called Stewards of the Land that tells the story of three Puerto Rican farmers post-Hurricane Maria in support of local involvement and direct participation with agriculture on the island as a means to develop greater land sovereignty and access to local food. I look forward to adding this to the roster of resources that I will use to contextualize the history and culture of Puerto Rico before students set foot on the island.
During my visit, I returned to the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, a cultural center and bookstore located in Old San Juan that I frequent when I’m in the area. I purchased some additional materials, specifically a children’s book on Taíno legends and playing cards adorned with famous Puerto Rican writers, to further support me with curriculum development.
Throughout our stay in Old San Juan, I got to bear witness to a series of protests throughout the week on Calle Fortaleza (Fortaleza Street) often colloquially referred to as Calle de la Resistencia (Street of the Resistance). The people were protesting the private electric company LUMA for its shoddy work in servicing the island’s electric power grid and ultimately power to island residents. While electric power has been an ongoing issue, especially since Hurricane Maria, residents report longer outages since LUMA took over the contract in 2021. As a Diasporican, it is important for me to keep up with news that impacts Puerto Ricans on the island and while I had a general sense of what was going on, it was powerful for me to witness resistance from locals on the island so intimately.
Thank you again to the PA for a summer grant to return to Puerto Rico! After visiting this past summer, I feel a renewed sense of confidence and clarity about and for the MMFS Spanish immersion trip itinerary for our 11th and 12th grade Spanish students.