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Press Release: Chicago area teachers embark on Costa Rica cloud forest immersion program

Led by The Morton Arboretum’s Center for Species Survival: Trees

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LISLE, Ill. (March 6, 2024)— Eight Chicago area teachers will travel to Costa Rica over spring break with staff from The Morton Arboretum for an immersive tropical cloud forest experience to help them develop classroom activities and resources that connect their students to tree conservation efforts.

Costa Rica’s Monteverde Institute will host the sixth through 12th grade teachers from Chicago, Naperville and Wheaton for an education-focused tree conservation excursion, March 24 to 30. The trip is supported by the Walder Foundation as part of the Arboretum’s Global Tree Conservation Program and Center for Species Survival: Trees to expand their impact through education and firsthand experiences for educators.

“This is a unique opportunity to directly connect educators with global biodiversity experts,” said the Arboretum’s Director of Global Tree Conservation Silvia Alvarez-Clare, Ph.D., who co-leads the project. “Our goal is to inspire increased learning about biodiversity research and the many ways anyone can make a difference.”

After their trip, the teachers will create curricula for their schools about the field experience, including what they learned about Costa Rica’s unique biodiverse ecosystems. Participants will also meet at the Arboretum in June for a follow-up workshop.

The Costa Rica cloud forest is a biodiversity hotspot with an exceptionally biodiverse habitat that is one of the most threatened on Earth. It has over 400 bird and 3,200 plant species. The Arboretum’s Global Tree Conservation Program has numerous ongoing projects in Costa Rica, including efforts to safeguard Quercus insignis, an endangered oak. The team is also developing a national conservation strategy for trees in the country.

“This forest immersion trip is just one of the ways the Arboretum supports teachers and works to provide a comprehensive view of tree conservation and associated careers to help foster the next generation of tree champions,” said the Arboretum’s Manager of School and Camp Programs Meghan Wiesbrock, also leading the trip.

The teachers were selected for the experience through an application process, which considered the applicant’s number of students, their level and need of resources, how they plan to use the experience in their classroom and their thoughts on the importance of conservation. Selected teachers include six from Chicago Public Schools–Academy for Global Citizenship, Jovita Idár Elementary School, Lane Tech College Prep High School, two teachers from Von Steuben Metropolitan Science Center and William H. Seward Communication Arts Academy Elementary School–one from Naperville’s Washington Junior High School and one from Wheaton’s Edison Middle School.

“Traveling with The Morton Arboretum and witnessing Costa Rica’s incredible and unique biodiversity will provide me with endless tools and concrete examples to engage students in conservation and environmental stewardship,” said Emily Brooks, sixth grade science and social studies teacher at Naperville’s Washington Junior High School. “By igniting my passions, I will empower my students to advocate for and conserve the beautiful world around them.”

Michelle Loh, who teaches ninth grade honors biology and the honors science elective Conservation Science and Wildlife for 10th through 12th graders at Lane Tech in Chicago’s Roscoe Village neighborhood, said she hopes her travels inspire students to learn more and explore the world one day.

“In Honors Conservation Science and Wildlife, we discuss the importance of promoting awareness and ways of involving the community in conservation,” Loh said. “Using the knowledge from this trip, my goal is to guide students to continue working on our new garden to increase biodiversity, increase community engagement and foster eco-friendly practices, creating a positive experience between nature and students.”

Among other activities, the intensive itinerary includes introductions to Costa Rica’s rare and endangered wildlife; bat mist netting and species surveys in the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve; water quality monitoring with local Costa Rican educators; and forest restoration activities at the Monteverde Institute Tree Nursery, among other activities.

“This trip will provide firsthand experience in diverse ecosystems, which I can integrate into my curriculum to make science more engaging and relevant for my students, building through a lens of storytelling,” said Ryan Johnson, seventh and eighth grade science teacher at Jovita Idár Elementary School in Chicago’s Gage Park neighborhood. “It will also allow me to connect with specialists and researchers, enhancing my understanding of environmental science and providing valuable networking opportunities. For my students, this means I can bring back real-world examples and data, enriching their learning and inspiring them to explore science beyond the classroom so that they can build their own stories.”