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Ephemeral Sand Castles & Lasting Team Spirit Among Transient Teachers

By Jennifer Legra
Ephemeral Sand Castles & Lasting Team Spirit Among Transient Teachers

On the shores of Cabarete, Dominican Republic over Thanksgiving weekend, at least 50 adults gather in team colors. In the distance, I can see a gang walking down the beach with blue shirts, ready to rumble. The green team is waiting for only two more people to reach the quota. They impatiently count and recount their members, knowing the first group to assemble all its players will win a punctuality point. Teachers through and through!
The yellow team, wasting no time, has started on its sand castle, and even when it begins to rain, no one from yellow runs for cover. If you didn’t know better, you’d look for a hidden camera. No way are grown adults doing this, right? But as the Olympic games begin, any passerby can see: this is no joke. We are a beach full of teachers working in teams to win bragging rights, to claim victory at Thanksgiving Olympics.
When my husband Mike and I launched Thanksgiving Beach Olympics for our community at Carol Morgan School (CMS) four years ago, we had high hopes. It wasn’t the first “Olympics” we had planned, but it would definitely be the biggest, leading more than 50 teachers through eight events. From previous experience, we knew this sort of event could be amazing, a silly way to spend the day with friends. But what came of it was bigger than anyone expected. Team building, camaraderie, lasting memories—Thanksgiving Olympics has given us more than a few hearty laughs; it has woven a common thread among us, binding us as a community and as a family.
The biggest benefit of our Olympics is unity. Since teams are formed at random (names drawn from a hat), the odds of ending up on the team of someone you don’t know are high. Teachers from different school levels that might not normally spend time together end up side-by-side, cheering on fellow teammates. As word of our beloved Olympics spread, people outside our community became interested. Guests visiting CMS teachers for the weekend expressed interest in joining a team. This year, teachers from another school in Santo Domingo participated. We’ve had school parents come to Cabarete to join in the fun. For kids who for years have watched the Olympics from the sidelines, it is a silly honor to participate.
It’s all about the events
In the Balloon Toss, two teachers from different schools who had never met partnered up and finished as one of the last three pairs. In Name That Tune, the Blue Team pulled out a win thanks to their teenage teammate. On the Red Team, CMS teachers cheered on visitors of teachers from another school in the Relay Race. What started out as a good time on the beach has now become a community and team-building activity of epic proportions.
Some of the games are recycled from year to year while new ones are introduced. Games are chosen thoughtfully, to give everyone a chance to showcase their strengths and be involved. Tug of War is about physical strength and endurance, but Name That Tune demonstrates musical knowledge. Bucket Brigade highlights speed and skillfulness while Towel Shot Put and Human Cornhole are about precision and working with a partner. The Sand Castle Building Contest gets the whole team working together and allows smaller kids to be involved and feel helpful.
Building something that lasts
Having just wrapped up our 4th Annual Thanksgiving Olympics (and sadly, our last, as Mike and I are leaving CMS), we see the impact that Thanksgiving Olympics has had on our community. It is an event that veteran teachers of our school look forward to, one we talk about to excite new hires every year, and one that teachers having moved on from here remember fondly. It is part of the fabric of our life as international teachers at Carol Morgan School.
It has been our pleasure to head the “Olympic Committee” and to not only build an environment of play and team building among adults but also participate in an event that we will always remember, and which will come with us no matter where we travel next.

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