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Jungle bookworms: Sunset Park middle schoolers take trip to Amazon

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Students from Brooklyn’s concrete jungle got to see the real thing on a trip to the Peruvian Amazon last month.

Twenty-five students from MS 136 in Sunset Park spent a week at the Wild Yarapa Amazon Jungle Lodge outside of Iquitos, Peru from Feb. 13 to 19. The week-long trek gave the kids a break from the borough’s harsh winter — but not from their studies, the principal said.

“They left the cold and the rain and went into this heat and humidity,” said MS 136 principal Eric Sackler. “But when we go in, they actually do a lot of hands-on work — see and learn as much as possible from guides and local villagers. It starts from the moment they get onto the plane.”

Indeed, the work began long before they left, the principal said. Each year, the school selects 25 students to take its annual, school-funded trip, then teachers prep kids on their destination’s culture, geography, flora, and fauna with three months of early-morning classes, Sackler said.

Upstate New Yorker Stephan Jablonski and his bushwhacking friend Rusty Johnson built the jungle lodge with $54,000 Jablonski won on the game show “Wheel of Fortune” in 2012. The Travel Channel has chronicled the duo’s efforts to build the remote getaway in a six-part documentary series called “Hotel Amazon.”

The tangle of teens was the jungle chalet’s first big group of lodgers, Jablonski said.

“This was a big deal for us. We’ve had soft openings, but this was the biggest group we had, and you’re dealing with 25 kids age 11 to 14,” he said. “The kids had a great time. They didn’t want to leave.”

Students went bird-watching, transplanted medicinal jungle flora into a lodge garden, and visited two nearby villages to speak with locals and donate school supplies, Sackler said.

Beside learning from a textbook, students got to see what it is like to live in such wild terrain, Jablonski said.

“These are inner city kids. Most of them have never been in an environment like this before,” he said. “Some of them didn’t know how to use a shovel.”

This is not the first international trip the Sunset Park middle school has taken. In the past, the school has taken pupils to Mexico, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, the South Dakota badlands, the Florida Everglades, and Yellowstone National Park, Sackler said.

The principal said he favors trips to Spanish-speaking countries for the benefit of his school’s largely Hispanic population.

“A lot of my kids are Latino, so we look at the Spanish influence on colonizati­on,” he said. “It gives inner city kids an opportunity to experience a whole different way of seeing the world.”

Hotel Amazon” premiered March 9 and airs Mondays at 10 pm on The Travel Channel. The six-part documentary ends on April 13.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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