On her 13 hour flight home from her eleven day voyage of discovery to the Galapagos Islands, Chemainus Secondary School teacher Janet Ruest sorted through the 1,200 photos she’d taken and narrowed the selection down to about 70.
Not that all the photos weeded from her final presentation were duds; it’s just that there was so much to share from her voyage of a lifetime that only the best of the best could make the final cut.
Ruest was one of 35 teachers, out of the 2,700 who applied from all over North America, to be selected as a 2015 Grosvenor Teacher Fellow by The National Geographic Society and Lindblad Expeditions. As much as that was an honour, it was a responsibility.
The idea is for handpicked teachers, who are already zooming their students’ minds in on the concepts of ‘geo-literacy’, to experience something they can take back to share in their classrooms and with colleagues.
“They pick people who have already done that sort of work and will continue to do so,” Ruest said during a lunch break at Chemainus Secondary.
Selected in February, Ruest met her fellow Fellows this April in Washington, DC. In pairs the teachers would be going on expeditions all over the world: from the Antarctic, to the Arctic, to Iceland, the Galapagos and the UK teams boarded National Geographic ships – the Endeavour and the Explorer – along with expert naturalists for the learning experience of a lifetime.
“I had a long time to wait, and prepare and get excited about it,” Ruest said of her trip aboard the Endeavour. “Sometimes when you hope for something, or are looking forward to something, it doesn’t always meet your expectations… this surpassed anything I could have dreamt of.”
The challenge now is to kindle that same passion for the ‘interconnectedness of the world, of plants and animals’ in her students.
“The over arching thing is to get students out of the classroom. Get them to experience the world. My goal is that students will never look at the world the same way again once they’re in my classroom.”
Not everyone gets to go to the Galapagos; but there’s plenty to wonder at close to home, Ruest pointed out. An expedition to remove invasive species from nearby Askew Park raises issues and creates experiences analogous to her Galapagos adventure. Or a field trip to Somenos Park near Duncan.
“When I take a kid over to Somenos marsh and the Garry Oak preserve, they’re like, ‘Wow! This is so cool. Ms. Ruest, this is really neat’,” she said.
”What’s so neat? Well we drive by here all the time, and we don’t even know what’s really here.
“That’s really powerful. Kids are really seeing their world, and they’re finding their place in the world and the impact that they have and the choices that they make have on the world.”
Energizing teachers with that same kind of Wow! is the whole point of the Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship. “That’s how National Geographic thinks, that it’s important to get teachers out to see those things and experience those things and bring that excitement back.”