You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myPalmBeachPost.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myPalmBeachPost.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myPalmBeachPost.com.

Lake Worth middle school students visit Cuba, see Obama arrive

Charter school students brought school supplies to Cuban classrooms, and were shocked at how students there cope.


Cuba’s most curious visitors this week did not arrive aboard Air Force One. They did not command the attention of the foreign press, make headlines in Miami or draw the cheers of the Cuban people.

Not unless you count the schoolchildren who greeted the group of middle school students visiting from a Palm Beach County charter school.

The small group of students from the Academy for Positive Learning in Lake Worth traveled to the island five days before President Barack Obama and his family made their historic trip to Havana.

Accompanied by their principal, Renatta Adan-Espinoza, the kids arrived with suitcases filled with school supplies for the Cuban children – markers, colored pencils, glue, the things that are difficult to find in the impoverished, Communist-ruled country.

“We put more supplies in our bags than clothes,” said Adan-Espinoza, known as “Ms. E” to her students.

The reception at the Rolando Perez Quintosa primary school in Guanabacoa, a colonial suburb of Havana, greatly impressed her students, says the principal.

“The kids put on a show for us. My kids loved it and all the little things,” she said. “They loved the art teacher, and how she recycled everything in that school.”

That’s exactly what inspired visiting student Malik Pastor.

“I liked how everything was made or recycled for their art, how the children seemed so happy, and especially how the school was self-sustainable with a small garden in the back,” said the seventh grader.

Eighth grader Christina Paszkiewicz says she was “overwhelmed” at the scarcity she found at the Cuban school.

“All I could think was, ‘Wow, we have a special room for supplies when they barely have any at all,’” she said.

Angelica Maldonado, an eighth grader who hopes to study film or photography, echoed the feeling.

“It was nice to see how people could survive despite the things they didn’t have. They didn’t have supplies, so they use paper to build art projects and toys. They were extremely happy to see us, and they were really grateful,” said the 13-year-old student who packed 11 boxes of glue and five packages of white chalk into her suitcase.

One thing she and her fellow students wish they had packed in great quantities: toilet paper.

“You had to ask for toilet paper everywhere,” said Maldonado, who offers this tip to aspiring travelers. “If anyone’s thinking of going to Cuba, they should carry around a roll of toilet paper wherever they go.”

The students say they found no scarcity of pride in the schoolchildren and parents they met.

“Everywhere you looked you could see contributions made by parents (to the school), from supplies to furniture to food,” said Pastor, the seventh-grader.

For an American principal who, like many other principals, struggles to keep parents engaged in her school, the parental involvement she found in Guanabacoa moving.

“You could be the poorest person, but their kids’ uniforms were ironed and their nails were clean. They were lacking a whole bunch of things, but the parents were involved,” said the principal. “My students didn’t understand how a government did not help one of its schools with basics. I told them, ‘It’s a different society.’ Yes, everyone goes to school, but they saw the bathrooms. They couldn’t believe how much these kids were lacking.”

Ms. E says she tried to enlighten the kids about the differences between Cuba and the United States’ governing systems.

“I told them, ‘This is a Communist country. It’s different. They go by what their government tells them to do. They don’t have freedom. It’s not a democracy,’” said Adan-Espinoza, who led a group of five students and close to 10 chaperones.

The principal got a broader look at Cuba, thanks to an exploratory trip she made last fall.

“We do a lot of humanitarian trips. We’ve gone to Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic. I usually go to the country first to meet with people and make sure it’s safe,” said the principal, who led a fundraising effort to take the kids to Cuba. She haggled for good rates and managed to pull the trip together for far less than what an official tour would cost, she says.

Hers is not a wealthy school. The Lake Worth A-graded school she founded in 2004 is a Title 1 school where nearly 90 percent of the students are on a free/reduced-price lunch program. But it is a school of curious students, like Angelica Maldonado, who sums up her trip as an “adventure.”

In addition to visiting the school, the Lake Worth students toured Old Havana and its landmarks. They swam by the waterfalls at Las Terrazas. In two rented buses, they toured the countryside, stopped for fresh guava and cheese at a roadside stand, sipped juice from a pineapple, and met the brother of the late Cuban songwriter Polo Montañez (and were thrilled to learn Marc Anthony, one of their idols, once recorded his songs).

Oh, and they saw the plane carrying Cuba’s most famous visitor of recent history: Air Force One.

On their final day in Cuba, as they waited to board their flight to Miami, they caught a glimpse of the First Family’s plane on its descent into José Martí International Airport. The principal’s daughter, 11th grader Victoria Espinoza, took a video of the plane on the tarmac. They all craned for a look, but could not see Obama and his family. They cheered, nevertheless.

“When President Obama landed I couldn’t believe I was in a two-mile radius of the President of the United States,” said Paszkiewicz, the eighth grader. “It was a crazy thought that the man who runs our country was just on the other side of a wall.”

Another kind of thrill awaited in Miami once they landed, recalled the principal.

“The kids were screaming, ‘Oh my gosh, toilet paper!”


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

NEW: Boynton woman, 71, reported missing
NEW: Boynton woman, 71, reported missing

A 71-year-old Boynton Beach woman was reported missing Friday night and city police are asking for the public’s help in finding. Police say Diane Lillie was last seen about 7 p.m. at her home on Lake Terrace Drive. She suffers from Schizophrenia, according to police. Lillie was last seen wear a dark blue v-neck sweater and a black pants. She...
Ex-Bak Middle School treasurer arrested on forgery charges
Ex-Bak Middle School treasurer arrested on forgery charges

A former Bak Middle School of the Arts treasurer suspected in the disappearance of more than $66,000 in school money was arrested Friday on check-forgery charges related to the case, nine months after authorities had ruled out criminal charges against her. Cathleen Spring, 53, was booked into the Palm Beach County Jail shortly after midnight Friday...
NEW: Wellington Idol winner suffers knife wounds in village robbery
NEW: Wellington Idol winner suffers knife wounds in village robbery

A former Wellington Idol winner sustained knife wounds on her hand when a man tackled her and took her purse in the parking lot of a Wellington Chase Bank on Wednesday morning, she told the Palm Beach Post. Jessica Leow, 23, was leaving the bank on the corner of Greenview Shores Boulevard and Wellington Trace at about 11:15 a.m. when she noticed a...
Kenny Chesney has mad love for this bar in Delray Beach
Kenny Chesney has mad love for this bar in Delray Beach

Kenny Chesney, the People’s Superstar and country sangin’ legend, showed Palm Beach County a lot of love recently. The multi-award winning artist announced on his Sirius XM radio channel, Kenny Chesney’s No Shoes Radio, that Delray’s own Boston’s on the Beach is one of his faves.  In a weekly segment called Kenny...
NEW: Woman accused of hiding babies’ body parts arrested in Florida
NEW: Woman accused of hiding babies’ body parts arrested in Florida

A woman wanted in connection with the discovery of babies’ body parts under a home in North Carolina was arrested in Jacksonville on Wednesday.  Police said Bridgette Smith, 31, had a warrant for her arrest for concealing a death, WJXT reports.  In April 2016  Smith’s mother discovered trash bags containing body...
More Stories