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Road Scholars make stop on the island

By Staff | Aug 17, 2017

Sanibel Sea School Lead Marine Science Educator Johnny Rader shared what was found with the group while seining. MEGHAN MCCOY

An excitement ignited for the youth as they made their way into the water Monday morning, their grandparents not far behind, as they found and learned about the sea life that called the seagrass beds their home.

LaVon Golliet, who resides near Seattle, Washington, made the trip to Sanibel with her 12 year old granddaughter, Sarah. The duo choose the intergenerational Road Scholars trip because Sarah loves the ocean and marine biology.

“It’s a lot of beach stuff and seeing what’s here,” she said of what was in store for them. “The kids don’t realize they are learning.”

“Exploring the treasures of Sanibel Island with your grandchild” provided a six day, five night seaside adventure complete with searching for seashells, snorkeling seagrass beds, exploring mangrove forests, all while learning about the marine ecosystem of the island. The group stayed at Sundial Beach Resort & Spa and had an itinerary of activities scheduled for each day, which included a trip to the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, and the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum.

“I love the concept of the grandparent and grandchild,” Group Leader Alberto Melendez said. “The principal concept here is a bonding experience. This type of trip is meaningful for the grandparent and something special for the grandchild. It’s not only going to a destination, but learning about that destination. Every single day in every single activity there is education . . . outdoor studies, or indoor lectures in a classroom setting.”

For Sanibel, he said the educational component brought 18 people from all over the United States outdoors to learn about such topics as the shells, water quality and native species.

“You always leave a location with a real sense of knowing the area,” Melendez said. “The kids really learn so much.”

In addition to the scheduled outings, Melendez said they also had free afternoons to do whatever they wished – going for a bike ride, kayaking and paddleboarding.

The day after they arrived, the group traveled to the Sanibel Causeway to learn seining with Sanibel Sea School Lead Marine Science Educator Johnny Rader. He first showed the grandparents and their grandchildren the difference between some common seagrasses, manatee and turtle grass, that washed up on the shore.

Then step-by-step, Rader explained how to go seining in the seagrass beds on the shore, before the technique was put to practice in the water. The first reveal showed an abundance of fish, and a dwarf seahorse.

After the group saw how it was done, many grandparents practiced the technique with their grandchild, as well as the youngsters doing it with their new found friends. Hand held nets were also produced, giving everyone an opportunity to go out to the seagrass to see what they could find.

“Johnny is excellent with these kids. He keeps it on a level even I understand,” Bill Hudson, from Decatur, Georgia, said of what they were learning Monday.

Melendez agreed due to one of the conversations Rader had about the impact straws have on the environment.

“I’m in love with the way he translates information. He is amazing and very good,” he said of gaining the attention of both the grandkids and grandparents. “That’s a special soul.”

Melendez said from that day forward the kids and grandparents started asking for soda, juices and water without any straws.

“I was completely shocked. Everyone got impacted,” he said. “He really explained something so simple and gave them an example. It’s really hurting marine life when straws make it to the shore. It really is amazing that they come for something and leave with a different mentality.”

Golliet said she has been participating in the program for quite a few years experiencing California, an African safari, Utah, as well as other destinations across the United States.

“It’s the chance to really get to know your grandchild without their parents,” she said, adding that the trip provides super memories. “It’s special times I treasure with my grandkids.”

Hudson, who decided to participate in his first ever intergenerational Road Scholars trip with his granddaughter Addi Harmer, 11, agreed with Golliet.

“It’s a lot of fun to spend time with them without their parents,” he said because of the bond that is created.

Hudson said he had heard about Road Scholars through a friend, who had participated in several of the programs, which sparked his interest.

Although the duo’s first choice was to go to Minnesota, which was sold out, Harmer decided that being around sea shells sounded like fun.

“It’s a fun week with my granddaughter, just spending time with her,” Hudson said without any extracurricular activities scheduled or his granddaughter playing Minecraft. “I like to watch her have fun.”

For Portland, Oregon resident, Claire Westdahl, bringing her 10 year old granddaughter, Mae, who is from New York City, on a Road Scholars trip was a family tradition. A family tradition that began in the 1960s when her parents participated in the programs with her kids.

The Road Scholars experience for the Westdahl family is now extending four generations.

Due to Mae’s love of swimming in a lake during last year’s Road Scholar trip, Claire said it only made sense to bring her back to the water at a different location.

She said she wanted to carry on the tradition because of the memories she’s creating with her grandkids. Those memories, she said develops once the parents are not around because she can indulge them a little more.

“I want my grandkids to feel loved,” Claire said.

Melendez, who has been a tour director for eight years, said the organization began in 1976 as Elderhostel, before being renamed Road Scholar in 2010. He said they initially ran the programs at university campuses where people stayed in the dorms and took lectures and classes.

Now participants stay at hotels at destinations all over the world.

One of the programs Melendez leads is in Puerto Rico where participants learn how to cook a traditional meal, as well as eat a meal in a local home.

“We go beyond what a tourist does, or regular visitor does,” he said.

Melendez does anywhere from 40 to 45 tours from the Florida Keys to Puerto Rico and the southern part of the Everglades.

“These are places that I have learned to love and respect. You are affected by it too,” he said about learning about the environment, water flow and conservation. “What really mesmerizes me is people from California and Oregon, they help the cause. They really feel the sense and urgency trying to do what’s best for the future generations.”