Archer Brooks spent a week in Costa Rica earlier this month. He hiked up mountains and flew down zip lines. He laid on rocky beaches with soft white sand.
"You'd be walking down the road and see a sloth," the 13-year-old said. "I've been out of the country before but nothing like this."
It was time away from Hilton Head Preparatory School, but this wasn't spring break. This was Winterim.
Hilton Head Prep started Winterim this school year, a slate of programs and extended field trips of sorts that took learning outside of the classroom and into familiar or not-so-familiar locales.
Some students went on weeklong trips to New York City, the mountains in Utah or New England.
Others stayed at home, experiencing areas of the island they might not have before.
"School's not just about learning from books, but experiencing life," said Spanish teacher Tiffany Santini, who helped organize the programs and served as a chaperone on the trip to Costa Rica.
That trip, for example, was a mix of fun and education, Santini said. Prep students stayed at a University of Georgia campus, eating foods straight off an organic farm and learning about research in sustainable living. Later on, they'd take trips to explore the scenic coastal nation.
The Costa Rica trip was one of about a dozen programs middle and upper school students had an option to take part in. Parents paid their way (some as low as $50, others reaching into the thousands of dollars). The flexibility of an independent school schedule allowed for time to make the first week of March available.
The idea came from headmaster Anthony Kandel, who said he had seen similar programs at other private schools. A committee of administrators and teachers sent out requests for potential programs to the faculty last year. From there, the programs were whittled down and organized. Winterim was such a success that administrators are trying to find programs for the lower school next year, Kandel said.
Students chose trips based on what they're interested in. One program sent students interested in science and technology behind the scenes at Disney World to see how rides such as Space Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean worked. Another program had students taking fishing expeditions off the coast of Hilton Head to learn about the sea life just off the island's shores. If students didn't feel like going out, they could stay in at Prep, taking art classes, for example.
Whitaker Gannon went on the New York City trip for the Broadway shows. She's an aspiring actress, frequently appearing in productions at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina. She watched professionals at the top of their game in shows such as the Tony Award-winning "Billy Elliot."
"You can really learn from their acting, so it was really cool," the eighth-grader said. "It was educational but fun educational."
Students learned different lessons from different trips. Liz Buterbaugh, 16, went on the college visit trip to Boston, touring Harvard University, Boston College, Northeastern University and others.
She learned that a New England climate probably isn't going to suit her. But that's fine. It was worth it to get a glimpse at what the future has in store for her.