Science teachers Kristi Butler and Patti Richardson and a group of their students travel by bus through the roads of the Galapagos.
At the head of their bus is a local Education First Tours travel guide. He’s been with them since the beginning of their trip, helping to immerse them as fully as possible into life on the Galapagos. And it was in his quest to immerse them that their guide discovered they had never had empanadas. To rectify the situation their guide called a little shop he knew, took their orders on the bus, and when they arrived, had “delicious” empanadas waiting for them.
It was moments like that, where what could have been a normal science trip developed into something more, which made Butler and Richardson’s first trip with their students through EF Tours so markedly memorable.
Four years ago was that first trip to the Galapagos, since then they have gone to Iceland, and now they’re returning to the place where they took their first trip.
But why the Galapagos? EF tours has a plethora of places to visit, so why these islands again so soon?
“One of our initial reasons for going to the Galapagos is because it has so much pairing with biology and things that we are teaching in the classroom,” Butler said. “It’s just such a unique place that families don’t often go to. We typically travel to places that we are comfortable with— places that are very familiar to us, even when we go on vacations as families. So it’s nice to expose ourselves and our students to something very different.”
Richardson and Butler’s background as biology teachers not only made the Galapagos an obvious first trip but enhanced the experience for the students. It was a special experience for the students to see what they were learning in biology made all the better by having two biology teachers there with them.
“As a biologist, it’s really cool because [the Galapagos is] where Darwin did so much of his research and shaped what we know as biology today,” Butler said. “For me, selfishly, that was a cool place to think about [because] Darwin was here. It’s just such a unique place with species that you literally cannot find anywhere else in the world.”
While the chance to study science in the place that Darwin conducted his research is certainly an undeniable high point of the trip, for Butler and Richardson, watching their students’ growth was the best part of the trip.
“I obviously enjoyed the Galapagos. But for me it was really watching the kids enjoy it and become this cohesive group [that made the trip special],” Richardson said. “Students that didn’t know each other came together and learned to navigate a foreign country and be independent and grow and learn. When they started, everyone was just on their own; they weren’t friends necessarily. But by the second night, they were sitting together in the lobby telling stories.”
Beyond simply the students’ development as a group, each of the students went through the sort of personal growth that only comes with the independence of traveling far without one’s family.
“[I loved seeing] their independence,” Richardson said. “At the beginning of the trip they were very tentative about taking a step outside of their comfort zone or asking this question or experiencing a new food or experiencing a new thing, and then by the end of it, they were much more comfortable; they had expanded that bubble.”
Freshman Desiree Tuohy, who is interested in going on the trip, is heavily drawn in by that personal growth and independence aspect.
“The experience of traveling without my family and becoming more independent and learning about different cultures and how they work and also meeting new people [is what interests me about this trip],” Desiree said.
Students who have gone on these EF tour trips with Richardson and Butler in the past can attest to the fact that personal growth and learning are a large result of the trip.
“It meant a lot to be able to go and experience the culture and the excitement of seeing this breathtaking new place on my own and trying to figure things out all by myself on the trip,” junior Kaylyn Whitten said. “It was an opportunity of sorts to prove to my parents that I was responsible enough to do this on my own. It was also such a great way to meet some new people in the grades above me because the trip was after freshman year.”
Richardson and Butler want to be able to reach as many students as they can with this trip; however, there are certainly challenges along the way.
“I think the biggest challenge for us right now is really the recruitment,” Butler said. “We want to let families know that it’s not a school-sponsored trip but we are taking student-age kids, and they don’t have to be from Central. They could be from Northern, Eastern, other school districts, church friends.”
However, even after spreading the message, Richardson and Butler are met with a certain level of misunderstanding. Although this is not a school-sponsored trip or a foreign language trip, the educational aspect of the trip is still heavily enforced.
“It’s not just a trip for trip’s sake,” Richardson said. “We are going to the Galapagos to use our science and to think about the science that we’ve used and get first-hand experience about different ecosystems and different land use and different mechanisms of culture and science connecting. So I think that is also a piece that families struggle with— seeing it as more educational. It’s not a foreign language trip, but it is very much an educational experience with the science and the respect for the ecosystems there.”
After spending a year in freshman biology, Desiree is interested in being able to see first-hand the things she has been learning about.
“We discussed a lot about Charles Darwin and the evolution process [in class], and [on the trip] we get to go to the different islands and see differences in the animals and stuff like that,” Desiree said.
The experiences, both scientific and social, that this trip provides grow the knowledge base of these students, prepares them for independence, and changes the students in a way that will stay with them the rest of their life.
“The trip meant a lot to me because I was going on this great new adventure and getting to do what I have always wanted to do, which was to travel,” Kaylyn said. “The memories that I created on that trip and the things I experienced are things that I know I will never forget and are things that I will always cherish. I’m hoping when I am older and I look back on life, one of the things I am going to remember is the trip I got to go on with a ragtag group of high school students who didn’t really know each other all that well and by the end of it had bonded into a group of friends through what we had experienced on the trip.”