"We prepare students to engage in the world that is and to help bring about a world that ought to be."

Global Education Trips 2019-20

The School’s strategic planning process has identified global education as one of the programs that Friends believes will enhance existing academic programs and help prepare students for this changing environment by emphasizing the competencies that are particularly relevant today. This year the School is excited to announce a Global Education trip to Panama during spring break.

Panama | March 2020

Communities and Conservation

We're excited to announce the Panama 10-day trip for Spring Break. There will be an information session on Thursday, October 17 from 6-7 PM in the CPEJ Room 410 for students and parents interested in learning more about the trip. We will be sending out a link to the info session so people can choose to join virtually through Google Hangout, should meeting in person be too cumbersome.

Students can apply for the trip here. Registration is live and will remain open through October 30.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact any of the trip leaders. We are looking forward to building a great student team of travelers!

Trip Leaders

Leitzel Schoen
Dean of Co-Curricular Programs

Joseph Sills

Amy Starks
Panama has long been an attractive tourist destination, given the ease of travel and wide array of experiences. A profoundly diverse country where indigenous cultures, local farmers, scientific researchers and international corporations cohabit provides access to a wide spectrum of learning and experiences.  A country where visitors can enjoy two different oceans, experience the mountains and rainforest’s, learn about native cultures, and take advantage of vibrant urban life. The Research, Communities and Conservation program in Panama takes students deep into the country, taking part of ongoing scientific research, exploring current cultural and environmental challenges and learning about the locals perceptions of the world and their surroundings.

Trip Itinerary


We arrive in Panama City in the mid afternoon and settle into our hotel. We begin our program by mapping out the program itinerary and the challenges we will face in the country. Students create a “full value contract”, where the expectations and roles of each member of the group are aligned. Staff members provide feedback and guidance. Individual students then lay out their learning goals for the trip, and all members make commitments to support each other’s development. Envoys staff introduce the rules and protocols necessary to maintain good health and minimize the risk of accidents.

After lunch, we hike through Parque Metropolitano for our first exploration of the jungle and local flora and fauna within the city limits. We head back to the city center for dinner before bed.


We head down to the Miraflores Locks, the last set of locks that ships must pass through before setting off into the Pacific Ocean. We reconstruct the history of this revolutionary engineering project and analyze the mechanisms that allow the gate to open and close. We then visit the museum to learn about the effects on the implementation of the canal construction and later expansion, and think about the story the museum chooses to tell, which may not include the whole truth of the human cost of the build.

As part of Panama City’s gentrification efforts, the Fortaleza Tours empower young locals by providing them with a forum to share their personal stories, earn money to support their families and ensure that the once-dangerous area remains a zona de paz. We immerse with the coordinators, both engaging in the experience of the tour as well as learning about the role of tourism as a conduit for employment and income-generating activities.


We rent bicycles or quadricycles for a relaxed ride on the Amador Causeway, a thin stretch of land made from rock excavated during the construction of the canal that links the Causeway Islands to the mainland. Intended to also serve as a breakwater for the entrance to the canal, the causeway and the islands have been considerably developed, with port facilities, marinas, shopping, restaurants, biking paths, and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. We discuss the dual role of this infrastructure project at the end of our ride.

We visit the Biomuseo, Frank Gehry’s only building in the whole of Latin America and the tropics. The museum, situated on Punta Culebra in Panama City, is a true wonder of design, but the exhibits within are also fascinating. Eight galleries tell us about the origin of the Panamanian isthmus and its gigantic impact on the planet’s biodiversity, detailing the rise of the Panamanian isthmus and its implications for biological transfer between North and South America all the way up to modern-day challenges of conservation and stewardship. Students have time to explore the exterior garden as well as view the many ships in the harbor waiting to go through the canal.

Before dinner, we take some time for refreshment and relaxation at the hotel, and a letter-writing activity. Students write their future selves a letter. In it, they outline their hopes and fears for the trip, along with five questions they have about infrastructure, trade and economics in Panama. The letters are sealed and stored away until the end of the trip, when they’ll be returned to students.


We travel to the homelands of the indigenous Embera community up the Chagres river for an immersive cultural experience. Students learn about the unique cultural and social traditions of the Embera people. We hike with our hosts through the rainforest to learn about the use of plants for medicinal purposes and how flora and fauna have adapted to create a sustainable (though dynamic) ecosystem. At the close of our walk, we challenge students to tube down a river in the middle of jungle.

Students work individually to create and write a short story about their experience on the trip so far. They are prompted to tell this story to a specific person at home (usually a younger sibling or older relative), using as much description as possible. They write out the story, practice with their peers and receive feedback. Finally, if time permits, they tell the story to the group.


We depart from the village and spend the day volunteering to support the maintenance of the Rainforest Discovery Center in Gamboa. Per Envoys’ ethical service learning compact, projects will be determined by the staff depending on where our hands are most needed. The Center is an education project administrated by the Fundación Avifauna Eugene Eisenmann, of which the objective is the conservation of birds through environmental sustainability projects. Projects in the past have included trail reinforcement to enable access to disabled visitors, upkeep to the bird sanctuary, and painting. We begin our time together exploring the grounds with the staff, learning about the different ways the Center helps educate Panamanians and international visitors about Panama’s sacred biodiversity. We spend a few hours helping out, and then transition to a relaxed activity of bird sketching, yoga, or reflection at the Center’s bird gazebo.

* Friends students will complete their annual requirement for out-of-school service credit


We receive an intensive Spanish language lesson from Habla Ya, a popular language school. During our classes, we bring up the questions that have built up over our trip about how to say certain things, and the specificities of Panamanian Spanish.

After having gained more historical context and understanding of local contexts, we spend the days interacting with students from a local school. Envoys leads a design workshop wherein students from both schools are sorted into mixed groups and challenged to create solutions for a problem they identify. Students choose a problem or challenge that is authentic to both students’ contexts, giving them a deeper understanding of the universality of certain social and economic problems. The first day gives students time to share about themselves and explore the concept of identity directly, complete with icebreakers and engaging activities. After lunch, they define a problem and make a plan for research, and then create a prototype of their solution. On the second day, they finalize their prototype and present their solutions to their peers.

In the afternoon, we visit the Fundacion MarViva Panama, where we learn how the organization works to promote the conservation and sustainable use of marine and coastal goods and services. This experience prepares us for our visit to Isla Taboga the following day.


We take a ferry to Isla Taboga, an island just a 45 minute ride from Panama City that is experiencing a major boom in tourism. Nestled in the warm tropical waters of the Bay of Panama and within an hour’s boat ride from bustling Panama City, the small island has a rich and colorful history and a humble little town. Along the way, we view the huge ships waiting to move through the canal. Once on the island, we explore the winding labyrinthine streets and shops and eat lunch at a locally owned restaurant. Afterwards, we head down to the beach, where we realize that the lessons learned from MarViva are readily visible - trash on the beach and in the water. We spend the afternoon doing a beach clean-up, working with local authorities to understand their efforts for beach stewardship in the wake of the tourism boom. Students get to swim and have a chance to experience why people flock to the beach, developing empathy for the complexities of the trade-off between conservation and tourism. After our day, we take the ferry back to Panama City for a shower and dinner.


The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute was founded with the purpose of increasing and sharing knowledge about the past, present and future of tropical ecosystems and their relevance to human welfare. This work began in Panama in 1910, when the Smithsonian led one of the world’s first major environmental impact studies, which surveyed and catalogued the flora and fauna of the lowland tropical forests that would be flooded with the creation of the Panama Canal. We visit the center for a behind-the-scenes tour of the facility, speak with scientists about their research, and experience the incredible exhibits on-hand.


We spend the morning in Casco Viejo on a guided tour with a local historian. The Casco Viejo was completed and settled in 1673 to replace Panama Viejo. The area was also designated as a World Heritage Site in 1997. The walled city, consisting of 16th and 17th Century Spanish Colonial Architecture, had been a deteriorating and dangerous area prior to the designation. Over the last few decades, investments and tourism have helped Casco Viejo restore some of its former glory. As we explore, we’ll learn about the economic rejuvenation of the area, and how profits are distributed among foreign investors and locals.

Over lunch, students share the lessons that they have learned from the program and make public commitments to share the experience back home, and use it as motivation for their own lives.

Friends Seminary — the oldest continuously operated, coeducational school in NYC — serves college-bound day students in Kindergarten-Grade 12.

222 East 16th Street
New York, NY 10003
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