Maumee Teacher Takes Inspiration From Costa Rica

The teachers heard from several local guides and experts on varying subjects, including ecologist Jack Ewing (center). The Ohio teachers included (from left) Amy Boros, Kristy DiSalle, Ewing, Mike Dick and Nathan Dick. PHOTOS COURTESY OF MIKE DICK
Four Ohio science teachers visited Costa Rica for 10 days, where they were able to learn about conservation and eco-tourism efforts throughout the country. Above, (from left) back row, Springfield teacher Kristy DiSalle, Perrysburg teacher Amy Boros and Gateway Middle School’s Mike Dick were able to meet with students at the city of Sarapiqui’s local school and learn about the similarities and differences between their classrooms.

BY KRISTI FISH | MIRROR REPORTER — When Mike Dick’s Gateway Middle School students return in the fall, they will know why it is important to look to Costa Rica for lessons.

Four Ohio teachers, including Dick, joined 17 other teachers, mostly from the Texas Association of Biology Teachers, and were able to visit Costa Rica for 10 days and learn about conservation and eco-tourism.

“The whole thing was geared for science teachers and teaching about what Costa Rica is doing for conservation,” Dick said. “We wrote a grant through the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation. They’re affiliated with Fund for Teachers, and Fund for Teachers pretty much financed the trip.”

The trip, which was also organized by Holbrook Travel, had around 20 science teachers spending several days in the rainforests and towns of Costa Rica. The teachers listened to lectures from local experts and firsthand experiences from local guides.

One of them, Michael, a guide from the Tarcoles River Valley, explained to the group about the poaching problem that has plagued the area’s native macaws for decades.

“Michael said his village near the Tarcoles River had about 2,000 people and about 1,500 of them were poachers. They were catching macaws and selling them to the pet stores all around the world and they were down to very, very few,” Dick said. “The government passed a law protecting the macaws and it didn’t help. Then, they hired guards with guns to protect the trees where the macaws were nesting, and that didn’t help.”

Education was chosen as the next step. Using a conservation education program, coloring books were used in the elementary schools to educate the children on protecting macaws and helping the environment, Dick said. 

“When your kids come home and start nagging at you, that’s a pretty powerful thing,” Dick said. “It wasn’t a government shift. It was people and the education process that shifted.”

It’s a similar approach that Dick has been working on in his classroom over the years, especially regarding monarch butterflies and other pollinators. Several local teachers, including Dick, and local organizations like the Toledo Zoo have been working together to get native prairies established throughout the area.

These prairies provide an oasis for native pollinators, insects and animals that might be pushed out by invasive or non-native plantings in the area. Educating the students in his classroom can help provide a shift, however small, toward a more welcoming environment for native plants and animals.

“If I could draw a parallel with my students and what we’re trying to do in our prairies to what Costa Rica’s trying to do with their macaws, I think that would be a very powerful lesson for the kids,” Dick said.

The lesson he hopes to instill in his students is the importance of supporting native plants and animals and allowing easier access to the materials needed to do so. Dick plans to assist other schools that do not yet have native prairies in getting them, and he plans to help other teachers get native plants into the hands of students and their families, so they too can establish native prairies in their own yards.

The trip was an unforgettable experience, Dick said, and he’s excited to teach his students more about another culture and how it managed to change the way things work through education, creating better protection for native plants and animals.

“I’m going to continue with encouraging patches in yards for natives,” Dick said.

Several organizations, including the Toledo Zoo and the Lucas Soil and Water Conservation District, offer more information on native plants, and the conservation district holds plant sales regularly. 

Dick said he encourages his students and members of the community to do more research on how they can help, and Costa Rica is a great place to look to for inspiration.

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