Teachers Beth Kennedy, Jessica Moore and Greg Tinker, along with Dr. Jeffery Cuomo of Southern Orthopedic Sports Medicine Associates, chaperoned 19 Walker High School students June 1-9 through Costa Rica’s beaches, towns and rain forest.
“This was our first look at the mangroves, which is where we did our work,” Kennedy explained while going through her pictures Thursday afternoon. “... Its job is to attract sediment in here, to decrease the sediment going down and to stabilize the soil. That was our whole objective in the trip that we took, to work in the mangroves.”
Kennedy was joined by upcoming seniors Jean Paul Osula and Lindsey Smith on Thursday who explained what they had seen, learned and experienced first hand.
“They (the mangroves) help prevent erosion of the Tarcoles River because the river is very muddy, and when it hits the roots the dirt collects on it and helps to fill up the banks,” Smith said. “... Here, we are planting the mangrove seeds, and we’re putting them in little bottles that we cut so that they can grow before we plant them.”
Osula added, “They are propagules. ... We took some that had already been growing there out to plant them, and those are going to be replacing [the others] so they can start to grow before we can actually plant them on the banks of the river.”
Mangroves provide many services for coastal regions by creating barriers against strong storms, coastal stabilization and filtrating sediment and nutrients into the soil.
Smith said that when the tide goes down at night, “the river gets smaller and more narrow, so when it rises it washes them away if they haven’t been firmly planted in the ground and have some kind of a root system. So, if we let them grow for a little while, they’ll be more sturdy when the river rises each morning.”
The trip was sponsored by EF Education First which gives students an opportunity to travel and gain knowledge through educational tours. The group viewed many types of birds, reptiles and mammals, including several species of monkeys, lizards and fowl. They also hiked trails, swam in the ocean, played on the beach, viewed La Fortuna (a majestic waterfall), visited INBioparque, kayaked, enjoyed volcanic hot springs, and went frog hunting and even zip lining.
“This was a fun trip,” Kennedy said with a big smile.
More than just fun, students learned not only scientific lessons but were also given a glimpse into another culture.
The Jasper students visited a public school where they viewed a child’s daily educational routine and watched traditional Costa Rican dances performed by the kids.
Kennedy said the Jasper crew checked two, large suitcases full of school supplies at the airport to give to the children in the Central American country.
They also toured an organic farm where everything they ate and drank was grown there on the farm. Students made their own sugar water through a sugar cane press, which squeezes the juice from the plant.
The teens also tasted very “fancy” coffee and walked along nightmarishly “scary” suspended bridges.
“The kids also, after their service learning project, had to do a presentation and put it all together and talk about what they had learned about the ecosystem and the global consequences of protecting the environment,” Kennedy said. “I was very impressed with how they did. They did a good job, and they learned a lot.”
Moore, who teaches honors physics and advanced physical science at Walker High School, stated in a quote that “This was a great experience for our students. They were able to learn about native habitats and vegetation of a local community in Costa Rica. We were able to help restore an area of coastline by collecting and planting mangroves.
“This type of hands-on learning experience is what lifelong learning is all about,” she continued. “Now we need to find a way to incorporate similar service learning opportunities for students in our own community and state.”
Smith and Osula said the trip made them both more environmentally aware now and more appreciative of the everyday things in their lives. All three agreed that if they had the chance to do it all over again, they would “definitely” make the trip back.
“This was the greatest group of kids to go. Everybody got along,” Kennedy said. “They worked together. They looked after each other. They were excited every day, and it was just a memorable and fun experience.”