Student Scientists Explore Panama and Costa Rica

by Upper School Science Teacher Bridget Lesinski
A group of Upper School students spent February Recess engaged in a science trip exploring the areas around Panama and Costa Rica.

Faculty chaperones from Parker’s Science and Integrated Learning and Information Science Departments joined 28 students on this Central American excursion. 

A highlight of the trip included learning about the Panama Canal and taking a boat ride through the canal via Gatun Lake. The group also visited Frank Gehry’s BioMuseo—the Museum of Biodiversity in Panama City. One of our students had done a project on this very museum in one of his classes in the Upper School. After a waterfall hike, the groups met with the indigenous people of the Darién region of Panama known as the Emberá. We learned that they have their own alphabet and unique way of voting for a new leader. Students were also able to visit the Ciudad Viejo, a UNESCO heritage site in Panama. We flew across Panama to Puerto Viejo and stayed in Bocas del Toro, part of an archipelago, where one of many highlights was a snorkeling trip.

Throughout our travels we saw myriad flora and fauna. We not only learned about these two biodiversity hotspots and their interesting geologic history, but visited a sloth sanctuary and became adept at spotting sloths in the wild at the top of trees. Many students were able to kayak and zipline for the first time. 
In Costa Rica we visited the hot springs in La Fortuna and hiked around the base of the Arenal Volcano, an andesitic stratovolcano that killed 87 people in 1968. We covered a lot of ground and learned so much about the culture and the people of these two beautiful countries. 

Click here for photos.

Students returned to school with so much to share, including the reflections below:

“I think that the trip was very exciting but also very informative. The biodiversity museum in Panama was not only interactive, but very visually appealing to help you understand the various types of wildlife in Panama and how they have evolved. In Costa Rica, our tour guide told us about all the plants and animals around the island, but we also got to see them in the wild, which was just as cool. Even when we went down the ziplines, we got to see the wildlife in person. Also, in Panama we went to islands and beaches and saw a lot of sea life around us. It was really engaging and I think that is what made the trip so much fun.”
-Paige Randell, sophomore

“I thought this trip was not only super-fun but educational. I was excited to see the sloths because they are my favorite animals, so getting to learn more about them and get any answers to any wondering questions I had about sloths. This trip also challenged me to step outside of my comfort zone. I'm not a very adventurous person, but I pretty much did every activity that I would say no to. That challenge was also fun and created new memories that I will cherish forever.”
-Spencer Dunbar, junior

“It was an amazing opportunity to learn not only about science, but different cultures. It's hard to pick a favorite activity, but I did enjoy when we visited the Museum of Biodiversity in Panama. I learned a lot about the indigenous species in Panama and how they've impacted the environment. In Costa Rica, I enjoyed visiting the sloth reserve and learning about the species. It was interesting to see sloths up close and how they are able to move. I didn't expect sloths to be very flexible. Another highlight was the snorkeling in Bocas del Toro. Not only was it a pretty good workout swimming back to the boat, but I was able to view the sea life in their natural habitat. Finally, I loved the ziplining activity because it truly gave a "bird’s eye" view, and it was cool to see an anteater up close. I am very happy I went on the trip because I learned so much, and I was able to connect with members of the other grades.”
-Frances Gomez-Barrientos, sophomore

“What I learned most about this trip was the biodiversity in these places. I had always known they were more biodiverse but not quite to the scale that they are. They also seem to care a lot more about protecting the ecosystems they have than other countries, with so many national parks in such a small country. My favorite part of the trip was when we were in the clouded forest. It’s such a unique biome that is created by specific circumstances. It's also a very vulnerable ecosystem with it relying a lot on the jungles at the base of the mountains. There is so much wildlife in those forests, it's just incredible! I also loved snorkeling. You have to look closely but if you do, the amount of small fish and coral is amazing! You don't really get to see anything like it anywhere else.”
-Jack Benson, sophomore
Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.