Special to the EagleHerald
A group of 21 Marinette High School students and two teachers discovered the culture and history of Belize (Central America) at the Institute of Archaeology in the Lubaantun Archaeological Reserve. Front row from left, Paige Florek, Taylor Johnson, Courtney Loll, Paige Minton and Morgan Florek. Back row from left, teacher Ted Rauch, Alex Zosel, Taylor Phillips, Megan Conley, Shane Smiley, Max Rauch, Weston Stroming, Haley Smiley, Katie Craver, teacher Cathy Smiley, Dan Hengel, Maria Bieberitz, Jake Anderson, Tara Klose, Brian Smiley, Daniele Asaro, Jessie Linsmeier, Jasmine Bebo and Kaitlyn Loll.
 
Special to the EagleHerald
A group of 21 Marinette High School students and two teachers discovered the culture and history of Belize (Central America) at the Institute of Archaeology in the Lubaantun Archaeological Reserve. Front row from left, Paige Florek, Taylor Johnson, Courtney Loll, Paige Minton and Morgan Florek. Back row from left, teacher Ted Rauch, Alex Zosel, Taylor Phillips, Megan Conley, Shane Smiley, Max Rauch, Weston Stroming, Haley Smiley, Katie Craver, teacher Cathy Smiley, Dan Hengel, Maria Bieberitz, Jake Anderson, Tara Klose, Brian Smiley, Daniele Asaro, Jessie Linsmeier, Jasmine Bebo and Kaitlyn Loll.  
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MARINETTE — Nearly two dozen Marinette High School students recently had the opportunity of a lifetime.
After traveling to Belize in June, 21 high schoolers were immersed with the Mayan culture and atmosphere of the country. Along with teachers Cathy Smiley and Ted Rauch, the group was able to explore the Mayan Ruins in Blue Creek and snorkel in South Water Caye.
“These kids were challenged both mentally and physically,” Smiley said. “They were pushed. Sometimes they were in tears and struggling, but I think once they got through it, it was such an accomplishment. It gave me goosebumps seeing them from the start of the trip until the end. They could have done anything.”
Belize is a small country in Central America, located south of Mexico and east of Guatemala on the western Caribbean Sea.
Before traveling to Belize, Smiley and Rauch emphasized that the trip wasn’t a vacation. In fact, after completing educational goals that the students set for themselves, they earned one semester of science credit. Education targets for Blue Creek included learning the Mayan culture and rainforest ecology, as well as some community service work. In South Water Caye, students learned, researched and identified marine life, monitored solid waste and journaled daily.
Experiences ranged anywhere from hiking in a cave to trekking up a significantly steep mountain in the middle of the jungle.
Smiley explained the students could choose between the two. Paige Minton, a junior, picked the cave, while junior twin sisters Courtney and Kaitlin Loll ventured up the mountain.
Minton said the the hike included a lot of rock climbing, but she enjoyed the experience.
“It’s not how we have these candid experiences in the United States,” Smiley said. “This is 100 percent real.”
 Courtney Loll said the jungle hike is probably the most difficult task she has ever completed.
“We climbed uphill for three hours, but it was definitely worth it when we got to the top,” she said. “It was so beautiful.”
Villagers welcomed the group warmly into their homes. Students learned how they made food from start to finish and of the culture.
“They would show us exactly what they would do on a daily basis,” Minton said. “It was a developing kind of society. It was interesting to see how they make everything and are really happy with how they life. It really gave everyone the appreciation for the things you have at home.”
“I thought it was amazing for them to allow us to come in their home,” Kaitlin Loll said.
Smiley explained students were able to make corn tortillas and a cocoa drink.
“It was just like National Geographic,” she said. “They invited us into their homes and showed up how to make the food. It was so neat.”
While in the rainforest, they also visited the Lubaantun Archaeological Reserve, which is where the Mayan Ruins are located. Everyone also get to see where the crystal skull was found.
“The guide told them about stairs that back in the day people had to climb on all fours,” Smiley said. “Without being bold they had to do it, all of the students climbed up like that. It was so beautiful that culture was important to them as well.”
Once the group’s rainforest excursion was over, it headed to the island of South Water Caye. Students researched and studied various animals while snorkeling. This was one of Minton’s favorite experiences.
“The reefs are something you could never imagine here,” she said. “The animals are a lot more friendly than you’d think. It was really cool to be so close to nature, without it being behind glass.”
The Loll sisters agreed they liked seeing the animals in their natural habitat. The duo saw a nurse shark, sea turtle and dolphins.
As the old saying goes, “It’s all fun and games until somebody gets hurt,” but that didn’t stop the students who got poisonwood and ear infections.
“Poisonwood is the equivalent to poison oak in the United States, but it’s much, much worse,” Smiley said. “When I read up on it, it feels like you would have second- or third-degree burns. They (the students) didn’t complain at all, they just continued enjoying the trip.”
Smiley explained it was the first time on a trip that she had to take students to a doctor.
“That itself was a learning experience,” she said. “It was a cultural eye opening experience because it had never happened before. The doctor was absolutely wonderful.”
Minton and the Lolls agree that living the simple life without technology was something they really enjoyed.
“I really liked it without technology,” Kaitlin said.
“It made everyone talk to each other,” Courtney said. “We made friends that we never would have expected to make.”
Experiencing life in Belize also made the three appreciate what they have.
“You really missed things that we take for granted like air conditioning and ice,” Minton said. “It really gave us an appreciation for things that we normally wouldn’t. It’s nice to come back and realize how much we do have.”
“We take a lot of things for granted, which they value,” Courtney Loll said.
 Minton vows to return with her family, so she can share the experience with her mom and dad. The Lolls both said they’d go back in a heart beat.
“This is a very good group of respectful, kind students who looked out for each other,” Smiley said. “They are great travelers.”
“It’s an experience that we’ll never forget,” Kaitlin Loll said.