By Becky Monterosso, CIP Berkshire Residential Coordinator
The first evening all the students got together for a meet-and-greet dinner where they enjoyed food, games and each others company. Students immediately began to form new friendships that would follow them through their adventure.
The next day all students and staff arrived at the Sunset Beach Resort in Montego Bay where they would spend the next four fun-filled days in the sun and on the beach; it was the perfect setting for many students to practice their social skills in a casual and open environment.
Students gathered for various excursions including swimming in the Luminous Lagoon, where you glow with every stroke you take; swimming with dolphins, sting rays and sharks; and shopping at a local craft market. It was great to see that every student was not only willing to go outside of their comfort zone but really take in the experience and be able to walk away with a different understanding of themselves as individuals.
The most difficult challenge we encountered as a group was going to the craft market. It was filled with shop owners who attempted to separate “buddies” and persuade students to look at their goods as well as buy them. At times these shop owners were pushy and rude calling students and staff racist if they did not purchase an item. Every single student handled themselves more than appropriately for such an unknown and extreme situation.
Students were sure to use their manners and tactfulness when stating they were not interested, few were pressured into making a purchase, and every student found their own coping skill to deal with it – whether it was getting on the bus or seeking other buddies to form a larger group.
While at the Luminous Lagoon, students encouraged each other other (as well as staff) to swim. Students learned that one of the staff had a dislike for open water and encouraged that staff to step outside their comfort zone and swim. Their encouragement resembled that of a team coming together to rally back.
During their excursion of swimming with dolphins the opportunity arose to swim with and pet a shark. Students jumped on this opportunity with excitement and when arriving back to the resort made continuous comments about how they were happy to have that opportunity and how “awesome” it was.
For those that did not do every excursion, or during times that there was not an excursion, the resort offered lots of activities such as karaoke, pool & beach games, dancing, billiards, magic shows, comedy shows, para-sailing and kayaking. Students developed new friendships with one another and spent quality time together at the resort.
As a residential staff member, watching these students in such a different environment was a phenomenal experience. Few students needed any reminders as to basic executive functioning skills, students respected rules established without question, and every single student went out of their way to make another feel included.
Students who are typically anxious with new situations were mellow and open to the new experiences. Students who are normally quiet and withdrawn became the life of the party; and students who may have issues with one another back at their “home” site, found a way to co-exist and experience that just because you may not get along with someone does not mean everything else has to stop nor that their day is ruined.
Not only did I enjoy watching these students grow and adapt in a short period of time, I am proud of how they managed to do it. For a week they had no pressure, no judgment, no commitments, and to steal a phrase from our trip, “no worries”.
As follow up to the trip, a CIP parent sent the following letter:
My son had a FANTASTIC time. He came home so excited to tell us about how much fun he had. He especially liked meeting and hanging out with the kids from the Berkshire Center. He had lots of fun with his roommate. From the opening party to swimming with the dolphins, he enjoyed everything. We are so, so glad that we sent him on the trip. Thanks so much for organizing such a wonderful experience for our son.
-Parent of CIP student