Cape Henry Collegiate School (Virginia) has partnered with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama, where they are establishing a permanent, academic-credit program in which students focus on neotropical scientific fieldwork, Spanish immersion, and community service.
“Students serving and learning in a country such as Panama can yield deep life-altering experiences,” notes Cape Henry head Jack Lewis.
Over the summer of 2010, 12 Cape Henry students initiated the program by traveling to Panama to begin their work at the Institute. The students visited a variety of natural habitats, witnessed scientists at work in the field and the laboratory, participated in field studies, and communicated with scientists leading the world’s research in tropical communities.
Students visited five locations, including Gamboa, Punta Culebra, Punta Galeta, Barro Colorado Island, and the San Blas archipelago. This provided them with a variety of experiences: guided nature hikes in the rainforest and mangrove forest; beach profiling; water quality testing; a tour of a molecular laboratory; handling fossils including a mastodon tooth; observing two-toed sloths; and much more.
This inaugural trip to Panama was also a cultural experience for the students. In addition to students from Cape Henry, two Panamanian students also traveled with the group. This enabled the Cape Henry students to obtain an understanding of how student life in Panama City compares to their own. The Cape Henry students toured the Panama City school where the Panamanian students attended, and a craft market where local artists sold their handmade merchandise. They also visited the Mira Flores Locks where they learned the history of the Panama Canal. While on the San Blas archipelago, students were exposed to a completely different way of life, since the indigenous people of San Blas still live a rustic life without modern conveniences.
Ultimately, the course will provide students with the opportunity to participate in scientific research, perform fieldwork, manipulate real scientific data, and form conclusions about what STRI considers one of the last pristine rainforests left on the planet.