Teacher’s learning experience in Thailand brings lessons to Riverview Elementary
Riverview Elementary teacher Jennifer Carness, here standing at the school last week, recently had a life-changing learning experience in Thailand.
SNOHOMISH — The elephant walking through camp was an amazing sight but just part of the curriculum.
On a recent trip to Thailand for Riverview Elementary teacher Jennifer Carness, her dorm was a monastery, the classroom a forest, and the uniforms were modest tops, quick drying linen pants and leech-proof socks.
The unique learning experience was part of Carness’s master’s degree program in biology, with a focus on conservation, through the University of Miami, Ohio.
The school’s “Earth Expeditions” trip was the teacher’s first trip overseas.
The weather made the first impression. “It was very hot,” Carness remembered. “It was the rainy season and so the temperature was like 90 degrees with 90 percent humidity.”
But the lessons were worth the sweat and long schedules, with days beginning at 3:45 a.m. and ending after oral presentations at 8 p.m.
Their studies seamlessly blended the unique culture with conservation.
In the mornings, the monks would begin rounds of the village, collecting alms in exchange for blessings. They taught Carness and her classmates to meditate and gave daily lessons. The culmination was a three hour experience in specially chosen spots in the forest.
Each day was exhausting but distinct. One day brought a trip to an organic rice farm and an in-the-field lesson about why farmers decided to grow organically. Students planted saplings in the paddies simultaneously with learning about the unique genetic varieties and growth cycles.
Another day Carness helped bring new life to a fire-ravaged forest. “They don’t have fire departments there,” she said, but locals and students helped ensure the forest would be green again.
Lest her own students be too jealous, Carness said she had plenty of homework.
“As part of our class we had to do readings and give presentations, (we had to) do all this stuff during the day, and eight at night we rotated and give part of a presentation,” she said.
The ten days in Thailand was just part of the two year master’s program which also brought Carness to Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo.
She was able to bring back learnings from studying the gorillas there to her third grade classroom, sharing data and videos.
The eco-friendly focus at Riverview Elementary will soon extend even further.
Carness is part of the school’s new Green Team which includes students and staff working on conservation locally. She is excited at the opportunity for the school to become a certified green school: an effort which has already begun with her third graders making a recycling video.
“I’ve teamed up with the district and with Washington Green Schools,” she said. “There are six different categories and the first one we’re doing is on waste reduction, so we’re doing composting, (and) our will kids go to the cafeteria and they’ll have composting now as well recycling.”
After her exotic journey, Carness said she was just fortunate to have had the opportunity. And while her students may not see any elephants march through their classrooms, they will surely benefit from her broadened worldview.
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