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Costa Rica offers a real-life biology lesson

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Oak Park teachers Ainsley McIntyre and Doris Nelson hope that students will eventually earn credit for an annual trip they take to Costa Rica.

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Oak Park teachers Ainsley McIntyre and Doris Nelson hope that students will eventually earn credit for an annual trip they take to Costa Rica. Photo Store

Rappelling down waterfalls, assisting with PhD level research and zip-lining across treetops generally aren’t things that can be counted toward a high school diploma, unfortunately.

But if two science teachers from Oak Park High School have it their way, they will be — at least in one of their classes.

Ainsley McIntyre and Doris Nelson are formally requesting that the school division consider giving students who take an eight-day intensive science trip to Costa Rica a field study half-credit toward their general education diplomas.

"Students walk away with a whole new appreciation of the science curriculum," says Nelson. "It’s amazing to see."

Right now, Oak Park’s Costa Rica trip is entirely extracurricular and takes place over the summer.

McIntyre and Nelson, as well as a third science teacher from the school, are currently hard at work planning a second trip to Costa Rica that will take place in July 2015.

In Manitoba, part of the biology curriculum in senior years deals with things such as eco-systems and biodiversity and sustainability.

And Costa Rica is well-known and recognized for its progressive environmental policies, its renewable energy sources, its extensive national parks and protected ecosystems.

Students experience such things as helping biologists care for tropical animals in sanctuaries, learning about and taking part in efforts to protect giant leatherback turtles, and meeting local people living in remote villages.

The trip was part of with Discovery Student Adventures, run by the Discovery Channel.

For the two teachers, volunteering their vacation time isn’t just an extension of their work — as educators, it’s one of the reasons they do what they do as teachers. And they want others to recognize the learning that occurs on the trip, by making the trip a for-credit course.

"It’s the best feeling, as a teacher, to see the wonder and awe in their eyes," says McIntyre. "As a teacher, those are the moments you hold onto, through the dark days."

"It’s been the best trip of my life — not including family vacations!" she adds.

Amanda Thorsteinsson is a community correspondent for Charleswood.

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