Alex Silva and Kate Ludick, talented educators at Virgin Islands Montessori School & Peter Gruber International Academy (VIMSIA), recently returned from the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research Teacher Workshops in Conservation Science. Silva, a science teacher at VIMSIA, learned about the program from a graduate school classmate who attended the program last year. Between Silva’s science background and Ludick’s English skills, together they wrote an incredible application essay and both were accepted into the program.
The objectives for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research Teacher Workshops in Conservation Science are threefold:
1. Provide replicable, relevant, standards-based conservation science activities for formal and informal education settings
2. Connect science educators to wildlife conservation through relevant laboratory and field-based experiences that share recent advances in conservation research.
3. Provide a forum for science educators to network and share ideas for weaving conservation themes into their school community and engaging students in conservation.
During the program, the group tracked desert tortoises, analyzed their habitat use, and discussed factors threatening their survival. While we may not have the same species on island, an idea can be modified to focus on local sea turtle species, which may inspire students to reduce their plastic bag usage, say no to straws, or even pursue conservation work in the future. Imagine the impact we can have if an even greater number of teachers are able to bring engaging conservation lessons into their classrooms.
Ludick’s highlight from the trip was the respect the zoo specialists had for teachers and how willing and accommodating they were in sharing their lessons and knowledge. She added how much she enjoyed feeding the giraffes and rhinoe and hearing the lions roar at night. Ludick noted the dry heat and temperature of 105 degrees fahrenheit were a bit tough to deal with. “On this trip I learned that there still are really good, intelligent people and institutions helping to save our earth and the flora and fauna in it. I learned that technology plays such a big part in conservation. There are so many unexplored areas in the field, still, that need these people’s creativity and talent” added Ludick.
The program was filled with 34 educators, each of which had extensive experience in science education. At times, Silva found it intimidating to strike up conversations with others, especially those with more experience. “In those moments, I had to remind myself that my students have learned a thing or two in my classes, so I must have something to offer to the conversation!” commented Silva. Silva thoroughly enjoyed hand-feeding eucalyptus leaves to a Rothschild's giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildi), despite the saliva left behind! Her lowest point during the program was realizing that despite how successful the California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) breeding program has been, they remain critically endangered in the wild and threatened with lead poisoning and habitat loss, among other issues.
Both teachers highly recommend this program, and encourage parents to visit the San Diego Safari Park. Conservation is a global issue, but it plays out in local environments. Understanding how science can be used to investigate and address the issues can help empower students, and adults, to take action, even on the smallest scale.