From a 100-kilometer bike ride to Hawaii surfing: Staff share memorable summer experiences


Photo Courtesy of Laura Brager

Algebra II teacher Laura Brager sightsees Turtle Beach, Maui with other program staff the day before students arrive. She explored Maui, Kauai and The Big Island over four weeks. “The views and food were amazing,” Brager said.

To many of us, summer is a time to recharge, reconnect and restart. However, during the past two years, the pandemic had disrupted people’s normal summer plans. With the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions, life is back on track to pre-pandemic days, including summer vacations. Some WJ staff share their memorable experiences this past summer, from adventure trips to family reunions.
Many staff set their goals even before the summer break. AP English Language and Composition teacher Ian Matthews and his wife wanted to use the summer to make up for the plans they had canceled over the previous summers due to the pandemic.
“It was like trying to pack three summers’ worth of plans into the months of July and early August. We had a lot that we wanted to accomplish, a lot of things we wanted to do and a lot of people we wanted to visit, so it was a pretty busy time,” Matthews said.
A common wish most staff wanted to achieve was to relax and unwind after the long, stressful school year. Spanish teacher Marcela Calderon focused on improving her physical and mental health over the summer. She worked with a personal trainer for a month, two times per week, to ease knee and lower back pain and started practicing healthy nutrition habits and daily meditation.
“The biggest thing I got out of my summer was improving my well-being. I tried to be more holistic—taking care of my mind with meditation and my body with exercise and sleep,” Calderon said. “It’s very relaxing, and now I feel lighter, like I can do everything.”
Staff also enjoyed hobbies and explored new interests.
Matthews had more time to pursue his passion for biking. One of his most memorable experiences was when he completed a 100-kilometer charity bike ride-—the longest he’d ever biked—to raise money for cancer research in Buffalo, New York. In the weeks leading up to the bike race, he trained by biking longer distances and practicing in an Annapolis biking group.
ESOL teacher Anne Marie Foerster Luu learned how to sell a car. “My husband is very good at finding used cars. He likes to fix them. I wanted to know more about what he knows,” Foerster Luu said.
Travel, especially flight travel, is another important component of staff’s summer experiences.
Algebra II teacher Laura Brager traveled to Hawaii for four weeks as part of the West Coast Connection program, which covers teachers’ full costs to be chaperones on student trips. Brager, along with three other teacher chaperones, led 24 high school students from all over the world to experience Hawaii, including surfing, tubing, ziplining, paddle boarding and community service activities, like planting native trees and identifying sea life.
“I’ve traveled before over summers but it was always shorter trips. I liked that I could enjoy a solid chunk of time to take a break and hit refresh. There was no point in my summer where I felt bored,” Brager said.
Staff also took the time to strengthen relationships with friends and family. Matthews and his wife reconnected with family in New York and Japan.
“A lot of the people we saw this summer we hadn’t seen since 2019. This summer was also the first time we met our youngest nephew in Japan because he was born at the beginning of the pandemic,” Matthews said.
Counselor Ashley Weddle visited the beach for a week with her family. Counselors work part-time at school over the summer, so the beach was a particularly memorable experience for her to bond with her two kids and savor the family time.
“It was a whole different experience than last year because [my two-year-old] seemed to enjoy it. He was running around and exploring the ocean and the sand, and I loved watching him. It’s been so nice getting all of us together because, during the school year, we’re busy working and going to school,” Weddle said.
Security guard Ronald Joyner visited the new Harriet R. Tubman Elementary School and revitalized Odessa Shannon Middle School as part of his work for the MCPS school board warehouse.
“I saw the schools being built, helped move things into the buildings and classrooms and prepared some of their classrooms for the school year,” Joyner said.
With the end of the summer, life is back to the routine of school, but there is still so much to look back on from our summer experiences. Although Matthews had a productive and fulfilling summer, he believes it was too busy—they were constantly on the go, doing trips every week for a month and a half.
“Part of the reason why I would’ve preferred to space things out was that it was so rapid-fire that it made our experiences less memorable because there was a constant barrage of something else. There was too much to keep track of. I had to scroll through my phone to see all our pictures and say, ‘Oh I remember that,’ and ‘Oh, that was fun,’” Matthews said. “It’s important to have a pace so that there’s time to reflect on an experience before moving on to the next one.”