This story was originally published in the Fall 2010 issue of Harker Quarterly
In late July, Anita Chetty, upper school science department chair, and Gary Blickenstaff, upper school biology teacher, traveled to Costa Rica with seven students for the annual summer trip to Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad (National Biodiversity
Institute, or INBio for short). They toured the institute’s wonderful facilities, including its restricted areas.
Wildlife sightings were, of course, frequent and always exciting. Students were able to see such local fauna as sloths, bullet ants, monkeys and a family of screech owls. They also experienced weather that at times caught them off-guard. “The humidity was oppressive,” Chetty said in one of several travelogues from the trip. “I reminded everyone that people pay a lot to go to spas so they can [similarly] sweat and expand their pores. They did not seem to care.”
Adventure was in great supply during the trip. Whitewater rafting in the Sarapiqui River was one of the highlights. “The river did not disappoint us as we negotiated raging rapids and tried hard not to fall in or capsize,” Chetty reported. “We did not want it to end!” The group also took a night hike, during which the students made the screech owl sighting. “Some people travel to this area for decades in search of this owl,” Chetty wrote. They also trekked to Arenal Volcano, which has experienced eruptions since 1968. “It just blew a plume of smoke about five minutes ago,” wrote Chetty as the group peered from an observation deck.
For the service part of their trip, the students traveled to the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, where they worked to protect the area’s sea turtle population. They did so by helping to build a new nursery, moving more than 100 eggs to new locations to keep them safe from poachers and even releasing hatchlings into the ocean. “All of these activities are new for the Harker program, and our students have had ample opportunity to directly engage in conservation practice,” Chetty wrote.
The group then visited a one-room schoolhouse with five students, aged 6 to 12. Chetty “was very impressed with [our students’] Spanish-speaking skills! Harker’s students performed a skit in Spanish on preventing dengue fever, and created art projects with the young students. “I was moved by the thought that here we were from such a privileged school, offering something to young children in a very remote location,” Chetty said.
The next stop was the University of Georgia’s Costa Rica campus where students were given the opportunity
to work on their independent research projects. There, Dr. Diana Lieberman, ecology instructor, provided them with the tools and knowledge to conduct their studies. The students participated in group activities in addition to research they performed on their own. “These are not the tried-and-true labs that students are accustomed to doing,” Chetty said in an e-mail. “Much of the learning comes from dealing with unpredictability. Equipment fails or the weather does not cooperate.”
Students went beyond the call of duty for their projects. Michael Prutton, grade 12, journeyed into an enclosure at a bat exhibit to retrieve echolocation signals, while fellow senior Appu Bhaskar was so eager to work he had to be ushered out of the lab at closing time when working on his project on arsenic concentrations in geothermal springs.
During the final stage of the trip, the students presented their research at a symposium held at the UGA Costa Rica campus, and each student received a certificate in tropical biology from UGA.Chetty wrote that Lieberman was “very impressed with not only how clever our kids are, but how committed they are to their individual studies.”
Matthew Harley, upper school biology teacher, and Mala Raghavan, upper school chemistry teacher, headed to the Galapagos Islands with 10 students in July for a special “ecotourism” trip, meant to introduce the students to the archipelago’s unique animal and plant life.
The group began with a stop in Quito, Ecuador, where they took a tour of the “old city” and its many fantastic churches. They enjoyed a great lunch while also learning about Amazonian culture, including such rituals as head shrinking.
After arriving in the Galapagos, the students and teachers met with their guides and boarded a boat to travel to the various islands for the next seven days. They saw many kinds of wildlife, and even snorkeled alongside sea lions and dolphins. “While on the cruise, we snorkeled almost every day and sometimes twice a day,” said Harley. Other times they shared paths with iguanas and lava lizards, and while walking in the highlands, saw dozens of tortoises. One highlight was a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station, where they sighted Lonesome George, the last known specimen of the Pinta Island tortoise species, estimated to be anywhere from 60 to 90 years old. Following the cruise, the group went to Santa Cruz, the Galapagos’ second largest island, to visit the FUNDAR (in English, the Foundation for Alternative Responsible Development in Galapagos) station, which helps to educate local farmers and aid them in restoring their land. “Invasive species, poor farming practices, poachers and the tourism industry in general are dramatically changing the ecosystem and threatening the extinction of species like the tortoise,” Harley said. “We helped the station remove invasive blackberry brambles and feed native seedlings for planting.” The students and chaperones ate “very well,” he added. “Most or all of the food was grown or raised on Santa Cruz Island.”
After their lengthy stay in the Galapagos, the teachers and students headed back to Quito for one final round of shopping at the bazaar and sampling the exotic flavors of Quito cuisine serenaded by the Ecuadoran version of a mariachi band – a memorable end to a great trip!
Summer was full of fun and work for Harker journalism students, who traveled to Hawaii and New York for workshops. The first contingent, made up of 17 editors, flew to Hawaii in early June. While enjoying the breathtaking scenery, students scoured the area for potential stories, interviewing locals and tourists for articles they would later publish online. They also worked on their photojournalism skills by taking on photography assignments. Group projects and planning for the 2010-11 year were also on the agenda. The students attended a talk by journalist C.W. Henderson, who is, among other things, a former movie executive with TriStar Pictures and founder of the medical and pharmaceutical publishing company NewsRx. Under Henderson’s direction, the students worked on exercises in phenomenological writing, or the practice of relating through prose the human observations of scientific phenomena.
In their free time, the students tried their hands at snorkeling, canoeing, surfing and boogie boarding, in addition to taking advantage of the innumerable sightseeing opportunities offered by the island of Maui. Local cuisine, deep-sea fishing and a luau were also part of the festivities.
During the second half of June, a group of nine Harker journalists headed to New York City for the Columbia Scholastic Press Association’s Summer Journalism Workshop. The program gave students an opportunity to sharpen their writing, editing and design skills through classes plus individual and group assignments. Five Harker students received awards at the workshop: Lorraine Wong, grade 10, for best review and best page design (team); Kevin Lin, grade 10, for best page design (team); Sanjana Baldwa, grade 11, for best layout; and Alisha Mayor, grade 11, for best feature.
Fun was obviously on the agenda as well, with students photographing celebrities at a movie premiere, catching a musical and visiting staple NYC landmarks such as Central Park and Coney Island.
As in Hawaii, the students in New York also published stories about their experiences. Be sure to view them at http:// www.talonwp.com/category/summer/.