“The turtles of Costa Rica have a great lesson to teach,” wrote Gavin, a Newberry High School senior, in his trip journal. “Though a turtle can’t walk faster than one mile per hour in the sand, they can swim over one hundred miles a day. Life is not about how fast you go, it is about how far you go.”
Reflections like this convince Veronica van Montfrans (M.T. ’07, Sci Ed) that taking her students on a Costa Rican field trip was more than worth the effort.
“Many times in the news, we hear about how urban schools are hurting,” says van Montfrans, a biology teacher at Newberry High School in Florida, “but rural schools are hurting just as much. We are in the lower income bracket … and our dropout rate is very high because many of these kids are the breadwinners in their family and choose to drop out to take care of their parents and siblings. But these students are tough, and absolutely wonderful,” she adds.
Last year, in only her second year of teaching, van Montfrans proposed a Costa Rican ecomission trip to her science classes—not just the typical field trip but one in which students would both learn and perform service.
The economic downturn made fundraising tough in a community where 50 percent of the students were already eligible for free or reduced lunches. Even so, nine of her students “fought tooth and nail,” she says, to raise money for the trip.
For those who were able to go, their trip included ten days of firsthand learning about conservation of endangered species, digging hurricane buffers on the black sand beaches, protecting turtle eggs, planting trees, hiking tropical forests, climbing a volcano, visiting an organic sugar cane farm, delivering school supplies
to small local schools, meeting indigenous peoples, and observing jungle animals in the wild.
“Many people thought I was crazy for trying something like this,” van Montfrans says. “This school, with only 500 students, had never sent students on an international field trip before.”
Van Montfrans believes the trip was beneficial for the students in many ways, but most of all in terms of their attitudes about science and environmental conservation. “They have found a love of science,” she says.
“They saw the facts and processes they learned in science class happening before their eyes.” One student, she says, felt a deep connection to the conservation efforts for the leatherback sea turtles after he dug up a nest for relocation. Another student always knew she wanted to work with animals, and this trip helped her focus her interest on endangered animals. “Another student told me this trip helped solidify her love of biology and her goal of pursing it as a career,” says van Montfrans. One student bought a brand-new camera before the trip and discovered he had an eye for nature photography.
Since returning, the students have enthusiastically posted their pictures online, swapped stories, called friends, e-mailed families, and made presentations at school.
“I think a lot of people would look at life differently if they had my students,” van Montfrans says. “I know I have.”
by Lynn Bell
submitted photo by Naomi Daniels