ILP Leadership Journeys Expand to Include Costa Rica and New Mexico

More than seventy Seventh and Eighth Grade students ventured out of state last month, October 20 to October 27, for four immersive leadership journeys that focused on cultural learning, outdoor education, community engagement, and conservation. Led by Calvert chaperones and partner organizations like the World Leadership School, the Island School, and Experience Learning, the students traveled to West Virginia, the Bahamas, Costa Rica, and New Mexico. The latter two signified an expansion of the leadership journey program, bringing the total number of trips offered per year to five – four this fall and one in the spring.
Keep reading for a comprehensive look at each fall leadership journey.
Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia
From Monday, October 23, to Friday, October 27, 19 Calvert Seventh Graders embraced outdoor education during a four-night stay near the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. While there, the students learned about orienteering, team-building, and problem-solving against the beautiful backdrop of Spruce Mountain, home to the state’s highest peak, Spruce Knob.
Led by Calvert teachers Craig Bennett, John Simms, and Luis Padilla, as well as Experience Learning guides, the students hiked to the top of Spruce Knob, rappelled the nearby Seneca Rocks, and gained new appreciation for forest ecology and wilderness skills. Donning headlamps and the proper safety equipment, the Seventh Graders also experienced caving and bouldering in addition to conducting daily leadership exercises and participating in evening reflections.
Cape Eleuthera, Bahamas
The 19 Eighth Graders who journeyed to Cape Eleuthera in the Bahamas spent eight days and seven nights focused on themes of sustainability, conservation, marine life, and aquaponics in conjunction with The Island School.
Accompanied by teachers Kim Daly, Sarah Dennison, Matthew Gallo, and Skip Howe, the students participated in workshops related to reef and mangrove ecology, conches, and general marine life in the area.
“We learned that the Bahamas economy obtains around three-to-four million dollars by selling queen conch. These unique creatures live in mangroves, sea grass beds, and coral reefs,” Caroline ’24, Chase ’24, Emmy ’24, and Simon ’24 wrote in a blog post. “A huge problem about these animals is that they are being severely overfished, which might make the population go extinct. A solution to this overfishing is educating people about how detrimental this could be to the Bahamian economy.”

In addition to learning about the importance of maintaining ocean biomes and protecting their populations, the students assisted with a beach cleanup and daily chores around the Island School. Through this leadership journey, the Eighth Graders had the opportunity to explore the local mangroves, visit Schooner Caye, and spend plenty of time in and around the ocean.
Cochiti, New Mexico
During their five-night journey to New Mexico, 20 Calvert Seventh Graders primarily participated in programming related to cultural immersion, community engagement, and awareness of indigenous peoples and history. In partnership with the World Leadership School, the students regularly met with members of the Cochiti Pueblo community to learn more about the significance of the land, its indigenous populations, and rich customs.
To get to know the community, the students engaged with Cochiti families and students, met with local artisans, and spoke with cultural leaders who described traditional drumming and storytelling practices. In addition to engaging with Cochiti families, the Calvert group explored Bandelier National Monument and toured the Tsankawi cliff dwellings built into the soft stone of the mesa.
As in all of the Calvert leadership journeys, each night ended with student-led closing reflections and leadership exercises. Led by Calvert employees Katie Leonard, Hannah Palmatary, and Keegan Beard, the New Mexico group also had the unique opportunity to learn about tent setup and more while camping on the grounds of an area school.
As the week wrapped up, the students sat down with their Cochiti guide, Bernard, for a final lesson on traditional crafting and indigenous makers.
“Bernard brought his beaded and silver jewelry and gave a brief overview of his craft. It was fascinating to hear about Bernard’s other amazing talents besides organizing and leading groups of visitors like us and teaching them about life and culture on the Pueblo. He explained how he processes the silver, stamps and molds it, inserts stones, and finally buffs the pieces to their shining finish,” students Rylie ’25, Sage ’25, Clara ’25, and Lila ’25 shared in an online blog post.
“This final moment with Bernard was very touching. He told us that, from this whole journey, he mostly wanted us to take away the message of love,” they wrote. “He says that love and respect allow us to celebrate all the different cultures in the world and help us to live in harmony and support each other.”
Chilamate Eco Retreat, Costa Rica
Fifteen Eighth Graders – along with teachers Sarah DeCamps, Michael Betkowski, and Diana Talbott – traveled to Central America for seven nights of unplugged outdoor education and cultural immersion at the Chilamate Eco Retreat in Costa Rica. The retreat is bordered by the Costa Rican rainforest, and heavy emphasis is placed on living with the land, rather than living at its expense. For this reason, and more, the Chilamate Eco Retreat was the perfect location for students to learn about responsible tourism and global leadership.
To dig into the relationship between Costa Rica’s rainforest and its people, the students learned about ethnobotany and cacao farming, which is integral to the region’s population and economy. The group also met with local families and children and paid a visit to Don Daniel’s Farm, a local facility where they helped feed pigs, learned about their diets, and worked with Don Daniel to make organic compost. During a visit to La Fortuna, the town at the base of Arenal Volcano, the Eighth Graders zip-lined through the rain forest’s tree canopy.
“As we rode above the trees, we could see a beautiful view of the volcano El Arenal in the misty background, and it was truly breathtaking. Everyone felt like they were part of the forest, instead of feeling like we were intruding on it as outsiders, like birds flying above the trees of the jungle,” students Preston’ 24, Hailey ’24, and Teddy ’24 reflected.
Just over halfway through their journey, on Wednesday, October 25, the students cooked their own lunch through a cultural cooking class and later rafted down a portion of the Sarapiqui River.
Calvert School is a coed independent lower and middle school.