Earthwatch's school group programme enables teachers and educators to share the Earthwatch experience with groups of school students on specially customised teams to gain valuable knowledge and skills in environmental field research. Gretel Von Bargen, a teacher at Skyline High School in Washington, led 17 of her students, aged 16 and 17, on the Earthwatch expedition Bahamian Reef Survey in June 2009. She will be taking 13 students on the Trinidad's Leatherback Sea Turtles expedition in March.
Gretel says: "I love to travel and explore the outdoors and nature. I also love to teach. Earthwatch expeditions allow me to combine my passions into a single adventure that is fun for me and my students."
Having led student groups on traditional trips to Italy in the past, Gretel prefers that Earthwatch expeditions allow her students to participate in research with hands-on "real world" applications, rather than being "hauled around on a tour bus acting as a passive observer". After returning from the Bahamas in June, her students still share adventure stories about their expedition.
Earthwatch scientists and volunteers in the Bahamas are monitoring coral reef health. They survey hard corals and other reef animals and plants, map transect sites, take reef measurements, and test water chemistry. On land, they map corals in tidal pools and monitor beach profile data for changes.
Gretel says: "The kids will be able to share adventure stories for the rest of their lives. Having an authentic field work experience was a powerful learning experience for them. They got to experience the joys and hardship of fieldwork."
Beyond the environmental education gleaned on the expedition, Gretel feels her students gain confidence when travelling without their parents, benefit from working in collaborating teams and, last but not least, have fun.
Manager of Volunteer Programmes at Earthwatch, Tom Berry, says: "Earthwatch is unique in offering hands-on, scientific research expeditions to school groups. They offer fantastic experiential learning for teachers and students alike, and are a great way to enhance both classroom activities and CVs."
Earthwatch school group expeditions can be organised for groups ranging from six to 20 participants. School group expeditions are usually limited to students aged 16 and up.
A biology teacher from Washington in the US has led her students on an Earthwatch expedition to the Bahamas and is planning to take another school group to Trinidad in March.