A group of Bourne middle and high schoolers took a nine-day trip late last month to experience a new culture up close and personal and to get their hands dirty helping with conservation efforts to save trees and wildlife.
“The kids were nervous when we left Bourne but as we were flying home, I could see on their faces that they had a new sense of themselves. Their confidence level had changed from night to day. They each grew up a little more in those nine days and that is exactly the experience I wanted them to have,” said Bourne Middle School 5th-grade teacher Mark H. Ponte, who organized a trip.
Bourne High School students Emily M. Cheney and Annie R. Cheney, sisters, took the trip with Bourne Middle School students Alexander J. Lane, Zachary D. Walters-DiMarzio and Lukas O. Jarvis.
The six Bourne travelers were joined in Costa Rica by four other groups of students from two schools in Tennessee, and schools in Indiana and Iowa. The group was put together by an educational travel company called Explorica.
The Explorica mission statement promises teachers that they will connect students to cultures, languages and people. And the company, Mr. Ponte said, delivered on that mission.
“Costa Rica was fabulous. The students enjoyed all that the beautiful country had to offer. A trip to a local school was very enriching. The Bourne students got to see how these students learn with so little available to them. They participated in a local dance and soccer games and traveled up to the rainforest to help high school students with a reforestation project,” Mr. Ponte said.
The Costa Rican school they visited consisted of three small concrete huts with metal roofs. One hut was a prayer room, one a classroom and the last a dining room. The school educated approximately 30 children ranging from grades 1 to 6. The most impressive aspect of the school to Mr. Ponte and his students was that the school principal, the teacher, and the cook were not three different people but the same woman. They were also impressed to see that she had six different lessons, for the six different grades up on the one blackboard at one time.
The Bourne group donated $40 and a soccer ball to the school in the hope they could use it toward pencils, crayons and paper, which always seem to be in short supply. They were told that these were the school’s greatest needs.
Traveling up to the rain forest the group participated in planting avocado trees to create a wildlife corridor because logging interests in the country have removed many trees and wildlife habitats to create roads and farms. The project is meant to create a safe and protected corridor from one end of Costa Rica to the other that animals can use to travel rather than having to cross open and treacherous highway roads. The avocado trees provide both a food source and a green screen for the animals.
The students also learned that global warming is affecting the region and many indigenous species are in danger of being lost because the “cloudforests” over the rainforest are heating up and changing the weather dynamics to the detriment of these species.
“I, for one, will recycle more because of our visit to Costa Rica to do more to help slow global warming. Costa Rica is the greenest country in the world. Instead of one trash can streetside they bunch several cans together to separate plastic, paper, glass and organics. They start the recycling process right away. I hope that the students learned that decisions that we each make in Bourne can have an effect halfway around the world in Costa Rica, [through global warming]” Mr. Ponte said.
When Mr. Ponte was referring to Costa Rica as the greenest place on earth he was referring to a ranking done by the New Economics Foundation that also dubbed Costa Rica as the happiest place on Earth based on a measure of citizens’ well-being, longevity, and efforts to sustain both the economy and the environment.
“I will never forget seeing my first volcano, from a kayak in a lake,” Emily said.
“I will appreciate what we have here at home more. After seeing the tin houses on the side of the road it really affected me and made me realize how good we have it here in America,” Annie said.
Mr. Ponte is sure that each student came away from this trip with a great learning experience and he is sure that he will conduct a similar trip next year as well.
“Some of these kids had never even flown on an airplane before. We did not encounter one problem on our trip. It was well done and the kids got to see and talk to people face to face and ask them what made them the happiest people on the planet? Family, friendship and religion seemed to be the focus of their lives. There were no computer games and iPods to play with. People went outside and sat on benches and talked with one another. This is exactly what I wanted the kids to see,” Mr. Ponte said.