J-Term at Post Oak: Falmouth Field School

Charlie McGill, Student '21
a high school student painting a house in Falmouth, Jamaica

Charlie McGill, a student at The Post Oak School, helped restore homes in Jamaica as part of Post Oak's J-Term experience.

Originally posted on The Buzz Magazines by student reporter Charlie McGill

The first two weeks of Post Oak’s second semester are special all thanks to J-Term, a unique set of courses that interrupts regular classes and replaces them with one elective. This elective takes students on experiences they may never have again, or allows them to delve into a topic not usually covered in school. To make it even better, J-Term promotes independence by allowing students to choose their course and even create their own.

I was fortunate enough to attend the Falmouth Field School, a trip to Jamaica where we worked with the Falmouth heritage foundation on a variety of projects: a film about Falmouth’s port and its economic effects on the town, the restoration of historical homes, and archeological digs to learn more about the town’s rich history. The trip opened my eyes to many of the hardships developing countries face, and inspired me to make the best of the opportunities given to me by my home country and natural privileges. 

a house in Falmouth, Jamica, prior to high school students' restoration work

This is what the home looked like before the Post Oak students helped restore it.

Going into the trip, I had my mind set on restoring homes, thinking the manual labor and edifying work would be most beneficial to me and the Jamaican community. However, I had an internal dilemma when confronted with the film’s fascinating topic, the economic implications of The Port of Falmouth. This subject couldn’t be more up my alley since my interests are politics and economics, and the ships that land in the port have serious implications in both those fields. Normally I would’ve chosen to work on the film in a heartbeat, but the restoration work felt more meaningful and important.

This was the first time I’d been faced with a decision like this: do I chose the work that would interest me more, or the work that would benefit the community around me to a much greater degree? To me, this encapsulated one of the great struggles of career choices, and prepared me for similar decisions I will need to make later in life. I ended up not being able to make a decision, and I let my teachers decide my fate. I was placed in the restoration project, and thus began some of the most fun and impactful work of my life. 

Last year, one of our school groups had started work on the particular house we were restoring. The house needed a visual makeover along with a structural makeover, which meant that last year's group worked on the foundation and upkeep of the home, while this year’s made it aesthetically beautiful. To make this happen, we had to paint; in fact, we painted every part of the home, including the roof! This work sounds tedious, but it ended up being incredibly fun for a variety of reasons. The first of which was the ability to see progress happening firsthand. There were times when I would look up from about an hour of painting and the house would look completely different. This was something special to see, and it was an amazing feeling seeing my and my friends' hard work come to fruition. The second reason was the connections I made with the Jamaican people. We had three professionals helping our group of four with the restoration, and they were all Jamaican natives.

A home in Falmouth, Jamaica, after students' restoration work

This is what the home looked like after the students completed the project. 

Talking with them throughout the day and learning about their lives and work was enlightening in the sense that it highlighted the major differences in our daily lives, but also the similarities. And finally, it was amazing seeing how people who had no connection to the restoration were becoming invested in its progress. We had many Jamaican residents make daily stops by the house to see how it was coming along, and they were always friendly along with talkative. The relationships I made through labor and a few conversations were special and different from any ones I had made before. 

Falmouth Field School was an experience second to none, and I am so appreciative of Post Oak and their commitment to amazing J-Terms for allowing this trip to happen. I hope to go back next year and continue working in Jamaica along with fostering relationships with its citizens. 

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