Teacher’s trek through rainforest blossoms in Liberty classrooms

December 13, 2011

By Tom Corrigan

Liberty High School biology teacher Erin Stephens spent a few days living with a modest farming family in this home in Costa Rica. Contributed

Probably somewhat predictably, her students wanted to know, among other things, what a Costa Rican McDonald’s looks like.

She did snap a picture of one of the restaurants during her recent trip to the South American country. But Liberty High School biology teacher Erin Stephens also took a lot of shots of the rain forest, of animal and plant life. On another front, she plans on mixing up soil samples simulating the rain forest environment.

“I am just fascinated with biology and tropical places,” Stephens said. “I really saw the trip as filled with opportunities to expand my students’ world.”

Out of some 350 applicants, Stephens was one of 25 chosen from across the U.S. to take an extended trip to Costa Rica as part of the Toyota International Teacher Program. Her excursion was Nov. 19 to Dec. 3. Stephens described the selections process as rigorous, admitting to some surprise when she found out she was chosen.

Three essays are the main way teachers are selected, said Mike McCartt, of the Institute of International Education, which facilitates the Toyota program. He said the most important essay describes how the trip would contribute to later classroom learning.

Besides looking at soil samples, Stephens also talked about having students compare their own carbon footprints to those created by the average Costa Rican.

While in the country, Stephens visited various spots, towns with names like Guacimo and Sarapiqui. For a time she stayed in a farmhouse of some Costa Rican natives. Stephens talked about how friendly the people were and she was decidedly impressed by their home.

“It reminded me of Robinson Crusoe’s house,” Stephens said.

The home was open on all four sides. Nature was allowed in, everything from chickens to the family’s pet bird Poncho.

Other highlights of the trip included walking over the rainforest on a hanging bridge. The walk took Stephens right through the canopy of the forest, some 90 meters, or roughly 295 feet, above the forest floor.

“The stratification of the rain forest … was complex and amazing,” she said.

Stephens also visited several different Costa Rican schools, from a private institution that was relatively well-off financially to a public school that wasn’t. Stephens actually spent Thanksgiving Day at the second school.

“I can’t believe just how generous people can be,” she said of her visit to the poorer school, where she was treated to what she called a huge breakfast and a special program created for the visiting teachers.

Perhaps along with the presence of a Costa Rican McDonald’s, another pop culture sign of the smallness of the world might be a video Stephens made of a young Costa Rican rapper who did his act in Spanish. His name: Little Kevin.

Besides Costa Rica, McCartt said the Toyota program has funded teacher trips to Japan, South Africa and the Galapagos Islands. Each trip has an environmental aspect to it, he added. Stephens said a friend who had taken the Galapagos trip recommended she try for the Toyota program. When she is eligible for another trip in five years, Stephens said she definitely is aiming to make it to the Galapagos. In summing up her Costa Rica trip, she said she was very glad she went.

“The whole thing was just amazing,” she said.

Tom Corrigan: 392-6434, ext. 241, or tcorrigan@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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One Response to “Teacher’s trek through rainforest blossoms in Liberty classrooms”

  1. Galapagos vacation on December 16th, 2011 11:30 am

    Good program, I also very timely. For teachers who have the final work of teaching so have the opportunity to support others

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