Students learn about biodiversity, geology in Costa Rica |

Students learn about biodiversity, geology in Costa Rica

Nicole Inglis
Moffat County High School students sit for a photo during an educational trip to Costa Rica earlier this month. Pictured from left are, back row, Tanya Billings, Jasmine Higgins, Dustin Carlson, Parker Hagins-King and Dustin Willey, and, front row, Katie Ellgen and Jessica Matthews.
Courtesy Photo

“Pura vida” is a term frequently used by Costa Ricans as a greeting or expression of the Costa Rican philosophy of community and good spirits. Literally translated, it means “pure life” or “full of life.”

For nine days, 14 students from Moffat County High School and Craig Middle School truly experienced pura vida.

At 4:45 a.m. June 9, the students and their chaperones left the MCHS parking lot for a long day of plane travel to San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. From there, they were led by their local guide, Margel, to seaside towns, rainforests, volcanoes and mountain villages.

The tour company, EF Tours, provided hotel accommodations in the various towns and three meals a day of fresh, local foods. Student groups from Texas and Ohio also were on the tour, bringing the total to 39 students.

“This was such an amazing experience for students to experience a different culture and different environment,” said Heather Sweet, MCHS biology teacher and trip organzier. “This trip allowed students to experience something we cannot teach them in the classroom.”

From active volcanoes to sloths and monkeys hanging from the trees, the MCSD students’ itinerary was packed full of experiences they will carry with them forever.

To be considered for the trip, each student had to get three letters of recommendation from teachers and mentors.

“Well, I came back with a lot of vacation time,” said Parker Hagins-King, one of the seven MCHS students chosen for the trip. “But also getting to see the country and how it looks different instead of looking at pictures was cool.”

Valuable lessons

Hagins-King, 14, said the things he learned on the trip will help in his future science classes, especially the different species of trees he learned about.

“There’s a tree they have you can break off a branch and plant it in the ground and it will grow,” he said. “There are also 12 different kinds of forests there. I only knew about two before I went.”

Sweet said the students were given the opportunity to learn about biodiversity from a conservation point of view.

“Our local guides stressed to the students how all the organisms found in the rainforest, including all plants, animals and fungi, are interconnected,” Sweet said. “These organisms rely on each other to live. If one species disappears from the forest, then the loss of many other organisms will follow. We saw many examples of this, including leaf-cutter ants and pollinators.”

The local guides also discussed deforestation and its devastating effects on the balance of the rainforest ecosystem. Costa Ricans recently have undertaken an effort to educate their country about forest conservation, recycling and clean energy.

Sweet said 95 percent of the energy used in Costa Rica comes from water, wind and geothermic sources.

She also was surprised at the prevalence of recycling everything from plastic and glass to leftover food.

Aside from biology, the class learned about the geographical history of the country, how it was formed and the different kinds of rocks.

Some of the geographical features were more obvious than others, such as the enormous Arenal Volcano, which Hagins-King said oozed molten lava as he watched from his hotel pool at night.

Lasting memories

Sweet said the trip was mainly uneventful, aside from a few insect bites, minor sunburns and one snake incident.

When the group arrived at the hotel in La Fortuna, a town nestled in the mountains near the Arenal Volcano, they were greeted by a local snake sitting on top of one of the beds.

They had to get a staff member to remove the visitor with the handle of a broom.

Aside from snakes, the group encountered several other not-so-friendly looking creatures such as poison dart frogs and crocodiles.

However, if the trip were all work and no play, it wouldn’t adhere to the pura vida philosophy.

The students got the chance to zipline through the forests, play Tarzan on a rope swing, relax in the waterfall pools and spend two days on the Pacific Coast lounging on the beach and boogie-boarding.

Hagins-King said one of his favorite parts was kayaking.

“The kayaking was fun,” he said. “We were just flipping over boats with all the people in them. There were huge waterfalls there, and we went to the hot springs later.”

But one of the lasting memories will be the visit to a small school in Monteverde.

Hagins-King remembered the four classrooms of the school had walls, but the common area was completely open.

Because of the location of the school, the students there didn’t get as many supplies as some of the other towns. The area was rural and remote, protected by the mountains of the nearby continental divide.

Sweet’s students brought with them donations of markers, pencils, notebooks and other necessities for the Costa Rican school.

“It felt pretty cool, knowing they’d have something without having to travel or wait a long time for it to get there,” Hagins-King said.

The Costa Rican students performed a cultural dance for the Americans, after which the MCSD students responded with a performance of “The Hokey Pokey.”

Some of the group played games of soccer and duck-duck-goose with the Costa Rican students after their tour, and Sweet said many of the students will keep in touch with their Costa Rican friends via e-mail.

“Several students told me that this was one of the best experiences of their life and one which they will never forget,” she said. “It was a good experience for our students to see what a school in another country is like. I hope that they will come back with an appreciation for what we have here in the United States.”

Hagins-King and the rest of the group returned, exhausted, on Wednesday night.

He said if the trip is offered next year, he will definitely try to go.

“It was just awesome,” he said.

Sweet called the trip a success and was grateful for the opportunity for her and her students to explore another culture and a different way of learning.

“I am extremely proud of how well my students represented their schools and our communities,” she said. “I am very grateful that their families allowed them this opportunity to visit another country. This was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had as a teacher.”

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