By Tracy Rogers, Project Kindle Fellow
Transformative, validating, full of adventure… These are the first three ideas that come to mind when I reflect on my experiences with Earthwatch. I have had the pleasure of working with Earthwatch on four different occasions and fully support their mission and dedication to citizen science.
The Project Kindle Fellowship attracts like-minded, dedicated, and passionate teachers from around the country, sends them on an expedition, and trains them how to organize and lead a student group on an expedition of their own.
I was fortunate enough to be a fellow in 2017 and a team facilitator in 2018 on the expedition Following Forest Owls in the Western U.S. I have a background in ecological field research and knew it was going to be exciting albeit challenging, but I completely underestimated how much fun it would be! Dr. Dave Oleyar and Felicia Aragon – both researchers from Hawkwatch – were incredible. Their patience, intelligence, and exceptional senses of humor made the whole experience feel like a truly collaborative effort. I made deep connections with new friends and colleagues over such a short period of time. It was inspirational, to say the least.
Oh yeah, and I got to hold three species of wild owls!
Students and colleagues throughout my school followed me on social media, congratulated me, and asked questions about my experiences when I returned. I feel it is important for them to see their teachers actively pursuing professional development, specifically those that contribute to scientific research. I am incredibly proud of and honored for the opportunities Earthwatch and its donors have provided for me.
In March of 2018, I had the support of my school, St. Andrew’s School in Barrington, Rhode Island, to take my students on an Earthwatch expedition. My colleague and I brought 11 high school students to participate on the expedition Conserving Marine Life Along Catalina’s Coast as a Field Biology Research Techniques Course.
On these expeditions, everyone is a Volunteer Field Researcher. This leveled the playing field for my students and me. During our week of research, my students and I became colleagues and the roles of teacher and student were constantly in flux.
As a teacher, I cannot express how proud I was watching my kids showcase all of the skills and content they have gleaned from my classes over the years.
I was able to just sit back and watch them use those skills in real-world science application which to this day still gives me goosebumps. The Earthwatch expedition allowed me to step back a bit from the teacher role and work side by side with my kids. In addition, it was thrilling to see my colleague, the theater director, fully immerse herself into the sciences and may have had more fun than the students. I am indebted to her and my students for that unforgettable experience.
Leaving Catalina Island was by no means easy. It captured a piece of all of our hearts. However, more importantly, the students left a piece of themselves there that will forever exist not only in the scientific data they collected but in the hearts and minds of the people we met there.
Our world needs more innovators, researchers, and compassionate environmental stewards. While we may have left Catalina behind, this is only the beginning of the adventure ahead for these students. I am hopeful for the future and incredibly proud of this class.
The partnership between educators and Earthwatch is such a natural fit. We share a passion for empowering the public in a non-profit setting. We do this work because we know it’s contributing to something greater than ourselves. As a teacher, it is important that my students understand that they have the ability and power to make change, and the Earthwatch expedition was yet another catalyst for them.
I asked my students to comment on their expedition. Their words have power and I would not do their comments justice if I paraphrased. I leave you with a few of my favorite quotes from the next generation of environmental stewards and science ambassadors.
“Being a part of an opportunity like [the Earthwatch expedition] exposed me to education, friendships, an essence of family, and some of the most inspiring moments of my life that, had I never had the opportunity, never would have been.”
“Going to Catalina to research with the scientists there completely changed my life and it was a once in a lifetime experience. It has guided me in the direction that I have been searching throughout high school.”
“On Catalina Island, I figured out I could use science as the backbone for messages I want to get out to the world. Coming home, I felt like I had done something to help the world become a more sustainable place. It dawned on me I can actually make a difference.”
Every fall, the future arrives in my classroom and every year, I see it getting brighter.
To learn more about this program, visit the Earthwatch Project Kindle website.