Yet there were no sandy beaches for the young explorers, their destination included humanity, culture and education.

By: Rebecca Winchester

In late January, the group departed on a school trip to Priory, Jamaica (just eight miles west of Ocho Rios) to probe the ecosystem of the tropical reef, explore the habitat and befriend patients at a local infirmary.

"It has become bigger than I anticipated," said Doug Dahms. "I don't know which part of the trip is the best." He began this journey nearly 10 years ago, and is assisted by his wife Susan Olson, Wilson administration; Carolyn Hiester, Wilson Central teacher; and Ann Bolek, Wilson high school teacher.

Dahms, whose teaching credentials include Advanced Placement Biology, Honors Ecology, and Environmental Science, discovered the Hofstra University Marine Lab (HUML) - located on the shore of St. Ann's Bay in the town of Priory - and began to coordinate the adventure.

The lab is a partnership between the university and Columbus Beach Cottages, a small hotel and former Jamaican dive resort, Dahms explained. Located a short distance from the cottages, is an Infirmary that houses mentally handicapped and disabled patients in poor conditions, according to Dahms.

He and the students started taking necessities to the patients. Almost a decade later, collecting items and visiting the people has become the heart of the trip.

"They (patients) love it. The kids just blew me away and now it's gotten better." Dahms noted about the amount of dedication and donations the infirmary receives each year. This year students, Wilson teachers and parents filled 30 suitcases with everything from clothing to medicines, and also donated three wheelchairs, Dahms explained.

"We (group leaders) don't make the kids go, they want to go, and some are their every day," the philanthropist said. "The kids are crying at the end of the week because they have to leave the patients behind."

The students found time to visit their new friends following their lessons in marine biology. Over the nine-day course, Dahms and his class went snorkeling to collect and analyze organisms. Dahms, an experienced scuba diver, said the students were required to catch a variety of creatures including starfish, urchin, snails, 12 different species of fish, and aquatic marine plants.

He lectured every afternoon and at the end of the trip, the class took a lab practical. "Every activity is so different, it's something different every day," Dahms said about the learning process. The senior high students also studied wildlife when they walked through the rainforest during the Native Medicine Hike and scaled the rocks at Dunn's River Falls.

After a plethora of research and knowledge, the group examines the culture of "true" Jamaica. Dahms noted that the group soaked up the culture. He and his pack visited the memorial and birthplace of reggae king Bob Marley. They also socialized with many locals. "The Jamaican people were wonderful," said Ann Bolek.

The "trip of a lifetime" experience left Wilson students with an everlasting impression. "It was an eye-opening experience. I've never been to such a heartfelt area," senior Pat Gould explained. Senior Sarah Speicher replied, "Being immersed in the culture and snorkeling," when asked about what she treasured most.

To experience "true" Jamaica, students are selected by having five positive recommendations by teachers from their previous high school or junior high year.

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