Bringing the Rich World of the Galapagos into the High School Classroom
Photo by teacher Lena Tashjian
Now that the Toyota International Teacher Program has ended, I've decided to turn the spotlight on a few of the teachers involved. First came the middle school teachers. Next up, a couple of the high school-teaching trekkers. Just see what a couple weeks in the Galapagos can do for an ambitious educator. Chris Border in communion with sea lions, photo by Pete OxfordChristopher Border – Islands ApartMr. Border lives on a tiny Alaskan island 800 miles from the nearest mainland city. Galapagos is 600 miles from the port city of Guayaquil. Border is concerned with the difficulties of initiating environmental actions like recycling programs on such an isolated locale. Galapagos has struggled with resource and waste issues in part because it is such an isolated locale. The canning industry is the single driving force behind Unalaska's economy. Tourism is the single driving force behind Galapagos' economy. Obviously, the parallels are not hard to draw.
And though some of the things he'd hoped to learn from Galapagos to apply to his own island haven't panned out—the Galapagos recycling plant is a huge operation funded by Toyota and WWF, and would be infeasible on his own even smaller island—he leaves the program with some keen insights on environmental education and the future of sustainability. He now more palpably recognizes the impact of depending on goods and resources from far away, and the difficulties that presents, he says. And he's been motivated by the intensive recycling effort to engage the issue back home. The experience provided ample opportunity for thought, as I noticed when we discussed various small island issues throughout the trip, including educating indigenous people, the need for unique conservationism, and rallying for community participation.
Funny—in order to round out his thoughts on the environment of his own tiny isolated island, he sought out another one about a hemisphere away. And his classroom will undoubtedly be all the better for it.
Lena Tashjian looking over a freshwater lagoon on San Cristobal Island, photo by Pete Oxford Lena Tashjian—From Literati to Eco-Friendly Teaching English at an inner-city high school Baltimore, Tashjian didn't practice any form of traditional environmentalism—she was on the trip in hopes of organizing a poetry slam between students in the Galapagos and her own in order to contrast the urban landscape with the classical pristine one. She was hardly prepared for the nature-filled trek that was to come. She balked at slogging through the Everglades and felt a little out of tune with the science-heavy crew of teachers. But unsurprisingly, the Galapagos had an impact on her. She writes this of her first excursion to the uninhabited island of Isabela:
"What most impressed me, however, was the albatross. The albatross is an important bird for sailors and is often considered a symbol of good luck. This bird plays an integral role in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge . . . Despite having taught the poem several times before, I had never seen an albatross. The sight of the albatross finally allowed me to connect my own experiences, as an English teacher, to the experiences I was sharing with (or perhaps even borrowing from) the Science teachers. Before seeing the bird, I felt like something of an outsider on this adventure, but seeing the albatross allowed me to experience the kind of reaction that others had been having all along.
When I came back on board, I was compelled to read the Coleridge poem again. Though I had never been inspired by the poem before, I approached it with a kind of unprecedented excitement that lead to a dramatic reading. As I sat in the cabin and read the poem aloud, I attracted the attention of several other teachers and crew members, none of which had seen me as excited as I was at that very moment. But of course. That kind of excitement can only be generated, in my world, through a combination of poetry and of Galapagos."
That excitement evidently impressed her faculty upon her return—no more than three days had passed before she was appointed the faculty supervisor of the Environmental Club at her school. And she's started a recycling program in her class. Not bad for an not-so-science-savvy lit teacher in Baltimore.
30 of the top teachers in the US made a trek from the Florida Everglades to the Galapagos Islands in order to engage a series of global conservation issues in the Toyota International Teacher Program. I traveled alongside the educators to report on the current threats and wonders of modern day Galapagos.