Travel can change lives. Opening up minds to new experiences, different surroundings and interesting cultures leave a lasting impact. Mix in a little education and L.V. Rogers school counsellor Karl Machado feels you have a recipe for success.
“The foundational pieces will not get you far if you don’t have these other education jewelry as part of your schooling,” says Machado.
It’s that education bling Machado feels puts formal education over the top. And that’s why he is heading up his fourth biology-based spring break trip in the last decade. After three excursions to Costa Rica to study sea turtles, a group of 15 Grade 11 and 12 students are off to Belize later this week to walk ancient Mayan ruins and study one of the world’s foremost reefs.
“Kids don’t know what they are interested in and you are unraveling it for them,” Machado explains. “They come towards it, get interested in it and take it further.”
To find proof that his efforts are worth it, Machado has to point no further than Zoë Caron. Currently one of Canada’s young leaders in the effort to raise awareness over climate change, Caron was on Machado’s first trip to Costa Rica just over a decade ago.
Machado says Caron was a leader and keen student well before the trip to Central America, but feels some of what she learned during the preparation, excursion and aftermath helped fuel her passion to make a difference. The co-author of Global Warming for Dummies and former president of the Sierra Club of Canada, Caron is currently the climate policy and advocacy specialist for World Wildlife Fund-Canada.
It’s hard to tell whether the next Zoë Caron is part of this current group, but after their 10-day journey to Belize all 15 will come back with experiences they will likely never forget.
The group will begin their exploration of the Central American country this weekend when they fly into Belize City. They will spend three days on the mainland where the highlight will be exploring a Mayan river cave system where the ancients held ritual human sacrifices.
From there they will travel into the Caribbean Sea where they will check out the famous Blue Hole — the second deepest sea tunnel in the world — and set up camp at Lighthouse Atoll. The area is a UNESCO heritage site and is home to a barrier reef that’s amongst the greatest in the world.
The group will camp on the beach and spend several days doing biological studies which will involve snorkeling and spending time in sea kayaks.
“We want to experience, but we want to somehow contribute with some information with our studies,” says Machado.
In order to make that contribution students will be doing a reef fish survey and undertaking a nest count for rare birds on the island.
Though students will be in a gorgeous spot in the world, the trip is more work than play. They have been studying on their own time for several months in preparation and will get course credit when it’s all done.
And for the counsellor, who spent 14 years as a biology teacher before switching positions, there is also an education component that goes beyond the obvious.
“The biological part is very important, but behind the biological part I am totally watching the group dynamic,” Machado says. “The counselling part of my job comes into it, how can you sacrifice your own personal needs for the group needs? How do you respond when things don’t go your way? That’s a rich part for me. There has to be trust and investment in each other. You build interpersonal depth and that is one of the goals of the trip.”
On the eve of the trip, students were excited about their spring break adventure.
“Going to such a small island and being with such a tight group is going to be interesting,” says Grade 11 student Ben Hall. “At the same time learning and not just sitting on the beach.
“We will definitely create some pretty special bonds with people, that’s for sure.”
Grade 11 participant Taryn Scarff had her interest tweaked by friends early in the school year who told her to attend a meeting about a possible school trip. The more she learned, the more she wanted to go and was pleased when she was one of the 15 accepted into the program.
“One of the career choices I am considering is marine biology,” says Scarff. “So I am hoping this trip will help show me more about it.”
And that’s one of the big focuses — presenting options students might not have otherwise considered.
“You just can’t go to Belize and go to Lighthouse Atoll, so these are really special opportunities,” says Machado. “Hopefully they will be doing studies and learning things that will help launch them in college and beyond high school.”