For someone who loves teaching social studies as much as Janet Ruest, the call was like winning the lottery.
Except, unlike a lottery winner, this was something she earned.
The longtime Chemainus Secondary School teacher has been selected by the National Geographic Society for an expenses-paid educational voyage to the Galapagos Islands.
More than 2,700 teachers from throughout North America went through a rigorous application process for what is called a National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship. Ruest was one of just 35 — only four from Canada — to be accepted.
She will spend 10 days next fall in the company of National Geographic scientists and photographers exploring the remote archipelago and learning about its unique flora and fauna first-hand. Then she will return to share that knowledge with the Chemainus Secondary School community and beyond.
Talk about the ultimate in professional development opportunities.
“I am privileged and honoured to not just share this with my class, but with my school and my district and more — to have as many people benefit as possible,” Ruest said.
Ruest leaves April 15 for a four-day training camp in Washington DC. Then, in September, she and another Grosvenor Fellow from Louisiana will fly from Miami to Ecuador, where they will enbark on the 900-kilometre journey across the Pacific to the Galapagos on board the Lindblad Expeditions ship Endeavour.
When they arrive, they will be get out and explore the rough volcanic landscape by boat and on foot, studying firsthand the exotic flora and fauna that inspired Charles Darwin with a legitimate research team of naturalists and photographers.
An avid outdoorsperson herself, Ruest is very much looking forward to the roughing-it part of the expedition. But even that takes a backseat to the knowledge she hopes to absorb.
“I’m not going on a cruise. We’ll be living a National Geographic documentary,” she said.
Lindblad Expeditions is a private eco-tourism firm that essentially offers opportunities for the wealthy to take part in National Geographic-style expeditions. In many instances it has forged a partnership that turns those trips into actual National Geographic expeditions.
As part of that partnership, National Geographic developed the Grosvenor Fellowship nine years ago as a way of ensuring the knowledge and experience gained during those voyages gets shared with the general public.
The Fellowship offers opportunities to join the expeditions to teachers who share the National Geographic mindset and are committed to sharing what they learn.
Ruest signed up at the encouragement of teaching colleague and former Ladysmith resident Tammy Renyard, who thought she fit the job description — teachers who have had a lot of hands-on experience bringing the world to students — perfectly.
“(She) sent me a link and encouraged me to sign up. She said “I just had a feeling.”
She is so grateful for the faith Renyard showed in her, and the encouragement and inspiration she has received over the years from her teachers and her mother, who has always nourished her adventurous spirit.
This opportunity has her thinking of her geography teacher back in her high school days, and how she hopes she can use this experience to have a similar effect on her students.
“The National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow program is all about making a difference and supporting geographic literacy,” she said.
“Thelma Brooks — my geography teacher at Parkland Secondary — travelled the world, came back to school and always made it sound so interesting and inspiring.
“I never looked at the world the same way, and that is what I try to do for my students. Life comes full circle when those around you pay it forward.”