They stood shoulder and to shoulder, holding hands with their pants rolled up to avoid getting wet as the waves covered their feet and their toes dug into the sand.
They giggled — then laughed in pure joy at feeling the ocean for the first time.
Jolynn Schinstock, mother of 13-year-old Tyler Krall, snapped a photo to forever remember the moment.
“(Tyler) had never seen the ocean before,” said Schinstock, “It was a little like watching a kid in a candy store.”
This moment and many more like it, happened over and over during the annual spring trip organized by the parent-teacher organization Payson Association for Advanced Learners (PAAL).
“There were so many wonderful moments,” said Schinstock. She went on the trip with her son as a bonding experience. With three much younger children at home, Tyler and Schinstock rarely get time together alone.
The PAAL marine biology trip offered them life-changing bonding experiences.
Schinstock said from the moment they stepped on the bus, the activities didn’t stop.
On the way to San Diego, the group stopped at the Yuma Historic Western Prison, the first prison in the Arizona Territory. That night after checking into their hotel near downtown San Diego, the group played at the Belmont Amusement Park with one of the only two original oceanfront roller coasters operating on the West Coast.
Up for breakfast and on the bus by 8:30 a.m., the group spent the day at Sea World watching dolphins play.
“We had never seen a dolphin show before,” said Schinstock. “We enjoyed it.”
After Sea World, the group headed to the rock gym to climb and have dinner.
Schinstock and Tyler went rock climbing together and both being afraid of heights, worked through their fear together.
“I was able to let go and enjoy being with him,” said Schinstock.
On the third day the group took a long bus drive to the Ocean Institute in Dana Point to explore the tide pools and participate in a lab/cruise combo.
“We were the only group to go to the tide pools that day because the tide came in after us,” said Schinstock.
After searching for creatures, she said they participated in dissections and took a cruise to see habitats and collect marine specimens.
The next morning, the group went on a whale watching tour. Unlike most whale watching expeditions, the group saw two whales that flipped their flukes and breached playfully near the boat. Dolphins danced in the wake, said Schinstock.
That afternoon, the PAAL organizers arranged for a tour of the USS Midway Museum.
On Wednesday, the group went to the Birch Aquarium at the Scripts Institute at UC San Diego to see exhibits of underwater habitat and climate change.
“For me this was the biggest eye-opener,” said Schinstock of the Scripts presentation on the huge trash pile deteriorating in the ocean off of the coast.
Their final day, as the group headed home, they stopped to enjoy a few hours at the San Diego Wild Animal Park.
“We didn’t get back to Payson until one or two in the morning,” said Schinstock.
Broadening horizons is what PAAL aims to offer kids from the Rim Country. Living in a land-locked town, with families struggling to make ends meet, seeing, feeling and studying the ocean was a luxury many cannot afford, but PAAL’s mission is to make it possible.
“We worked our booties off to raise money for this trip,” said Schinstock.
From selling chocolate every weekend outside of Walmart and Safeway to hosting a spaghetti dinner, to selling green chili burros, PAAL helped families raise the money for the trip. Each year, PAAL dedicates itself to taking kids someplace new. Last year, they went to Washington, D.C., next year they plan to go to New York.
“You cannot replicate this in a classroom,” said Lori Standifird, a mother who helped her 13-year-old daughter raise money to attend. “This type of hands-on experience can’t be understood reading a book.”
Everyone, regardless of financial capability, may attend a trip. For more information, go to www.rimcountryeducation.org.