Diamond Jenness students back from Galapagos

Andrew Lirette tries on the shell of a Galapagos tortoise. The islands are home to over 10 species - including those that helped drive Darwin's theory of natural selection - but they are now threatened by invasive species. Photo courtesy of Chuck Lirette

Andrew Lirette tries on the shell of a Galapagos tortoise. The islands are home to over 10 species – including those that helped drive Darwin’s theory of natural selection – but they are now threatened by invasive species.
Photo courtesy of Chuck Lirette

From the stories islands of the Galapagos to the slums of Quito, 18 students from Diamond Jenness Secondary School left for 10 days last month and came back with experiences they won’t soon forget.

I think of travel as a form of education,” said trip organizer Jacquie Richards. “We talk about global networks and how even in the North we fit into a larger picture in the world, but really, most kids only know Yellowknife and Edmonton.”

Every two years for about the last 20, Richards has been leading groups of grades 9 through 12 students on trips all over the world. She said that while it’s a lot of effort, the results speak for themselves.

It’s always a surprise to see some of the kids who sign up,” she said. “Even though these kids are all in the same school, they don’t always interact with each other on a daily basis here.”

Throwing them all on a bus in South America makes for some pretty effective and quick bonding, said Richards. For her, one of the best things that comes out of these trips is the camaraderie built between different peer groups and ages while on the trip that then re-emerges when the students are back in regular term.

This trip, from April 14 through 24 including more than two full days of travel, took the students to the Galapagos islands, famous for their important role in Charles Darwin’s theory of natural evolution, as well as Ecuador. They got to get close to the wildlife on the former and straddle the equator in the latter, all the while learning about lives very different from their own.

We saw that the houses weren’t completely built and people were living in them,” said Grace Osted of some of the dwellings in Quito, Ecuador.

Richards explained that people there build what they can afford and add on to their houses, generally made of cinder-block, as their families grow.

For the students, some of the highlights included hiking up volcanoes to explore lava fields and learning about the particular evolutionary patterns of the animals in the Galapagos, cut off from other influences for thousands of years.

I liked snorkelling the best,” said Jackie Larocque.

Trip mate Evan Smith said he preferred seeing the turtles and tortoises while his brother, Patrick Smith, said he particularly enjoyed the hike up a dormant volcano and seeing the wave patterns formed by solidified lava.

I really liked the sight-seeing,” said Treiva Plamondon. “And the sea lions.”

Osted noted that there were so many sea lions lounging about, it was difficult to find a place to sit down. Even beach chairs and benches were occupied by the beasts.

As a science teacher, it was amazing,” said Chuck Lirette. “Galapagos is pretty special. Life there is like nothing else on Earth. It was great to see how much learning was happening for the kids just being out there.”

As a world-renowned site of scientific importance, the islands see a lot of traffic every year and there are stringent regulations in place to protect the local plant and wildlife. Richards said that some of the local guides had told her that the number of tourists could be limited and the prices increased for travel groups in an effort to continue to protect the fragile environment.

One of them said the kids won’t know how lucky they are for a while, at least a decade,” said Richards. “I truly believe that. Some people dream about going there and will never get to go, but I know these kids will one day really appreciate the experience.”

-Sarah Ladik