Educator to embark on journey of a lifetime
Skariah to travel to the Galapagos Islands
Using global expeditions to provide teachers with handson professional development opportunities and unique learning experiences, The National Geographic Society and Lindblad Expeditions has selected a group of 35 educators from the U.S. and Canada to participate in the 2016 Grosvenor Teacher Fellows Program.
Prince George’s County’s own Karuna Skariah, an instructional program coordinator and talented and gifted teacher at Robert Goddard Montessori PreK-8 School in Seabrook, was among the top educators chosen to participate in the program out of 700 applicants. This competitive, professional development opportunity allows teachers to bring immersive geographic learning experiences back to their classrooms and communities, according to a National Geographic press release.
“The Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Program is a highly competitive opportunity for teachers in grades [kindergarten] K through 12 who have committed some part of their career to geographic education,” said Lindblad Expeditions Conservation and Strategic Initiatives Director Amy Berquist. “It doesn’t have to be just geography teach- er or science teachers. It’s really for the teachers out there who are showing young people how interconnected our world is.”
Since its inception 10 years ago, the Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Program sends K through 12th grade educators on a 10- to 17-day expedition, aboard the National Geographic Endeavour or National Geographic Explorer, to locations including Arctic Svalbard, Iceland, Greenland, Antarctica, the British Isles and the Galapagos Islands. The fellows will experience landscapes, cultures and wildlife unique to their regions of exploration, while being accompanied by Lindblad-National Geographic expedition experts, according to the National Geographic website.
Berquist said Skariah will travel on a 10-day Lindblad voyage to the Galapagos Islands later this year for a one-of-a-kind field experience.
“She’ll be traveling aboard the Linblad Expeditions’ ship [the National Geographic Endeavour] and she will spend about a week exploring the Galapagos. While she’s there, she will come face-to-face with animals that live only in the Galapagos and nowhere else on Earth — very unique animals like giant tortoises and marine iguanas and sea lions,” Berquist said. “The thing that makes her particular place really unique is that in the Galapagos, animals have no fear of
humans. So she will literally be within an arm’s reach. … She’s going to have quite an amazing experience with wildlife.”
According to the press release, Lindblad Expeditions works in alliance with the National Geographic Society to inspire people to explore and care about the planet. As pioneers of global exploration, their educationally-oriented voyages to all seven continents allow guests to interact with and learn from leading scientists, naturalists and re- searchers while discovering stunning natural environments above and below the sea, through state-of-the-art exploration tools.
During her expedition, Skariah will travel with naturalists, a Lindblad-National Geographic certified photographer and an undersea specialist. She will not only get to explore life above and below the water, but will also hike, snorkel, go kayaking and visit a local school on the Islands, Berquist said.
“I’m excited,” Skariah said. “It’s going to be 10 days of active involvement in observing, recording, keeping a log, writing a blog, interacting with scientists and explorers.”
This year marks the 10th year of the Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Program, established to honor former National Geographic Society Chairman Gilbert M. Grosvenor’s lifetime commitment to enhancing and improving geographic education across the U.S. The program — which started with two fellows in 2007 — has grown each year, according to a press release.
Berquist said she has been involved with the program since “day one” and feels “very fortunate” to have watched it grow overtime. As a result of the program’s success, nearly 145 teachers from 44 different states have been able to participate, she said.
“I got involved in the beginning because I think teachers in our world today are some of the biggest heroes that we can find,” Berquist said. “Anyway we can enhance what they’re trying to do for young people really makes a difference and I just love being a part of that.”
At Robert Goddard Mon- tessori, Skariah teaches talented and gifted students in 2nd grade to 5th grade, many of whom are “twice-exceptional” with special needs as well, she said.
Skariah, a Nepal native, said she plans on using her field-day experience in the Galapagos Islands to design a curriculum and bring it back to “anchor my lessons,” teaching her students about the Islands’ rich formation and diversity.
“The Galapagos Islands is so rich in its formation and diversity. I can bring anything I want into the classroom and widen my students’ horizon,” Skariah said. “To enjoy teaching, you have to instill the joy of learning into students. To be able to instill the joy of learning in students, you have to look at the lessons that you teach.”
As a 20-year veteran in the education field, Skariah said she gets bored with textbook teaching and instead prefers a more “versatile” curriculum that allows stu- dents to interact and enjoy learning. She said she is excited about her expedition to the Galapagos Islands and bringing back that experience to her classroom.
“I love the thought of changing the curriculum … so that I cover the basics and also enhance the learning,” she said. “I want to help them utilize interactive maps and I want them to find all of these remote islands. I want them to also study the ocean ecosystems and most important of all, I want the students to understand their place in the global conservation and the human connection to the ecosystems.”
For Skariah, failure is not an option for her students as learning is a matter of time and practice. She said teaching brings her so much joy and that each student, regardless of whether they’re talented and gifted (TAG) or low-performing, has a unique need. Her teaching strategy involves grounding herself in terms of understanding where students come from academically, as well as and being “well versed” in the subject matter, she said.
“Regardless of special needs or TAG, it doesn’t matter; it’s the learning style,” said Skariah. “Some of my TAG students are high performing but they get emotionally distraught and cannot speak in public. So I need to know the trigger point exactly, how far to push and how rigorous I need to make that lesson. … The same rule applies to the special needs students — how far can I push that child.”
Skariah said being able to educate a future generation of workers and leaders is empowering. Her next steps include having virtual field trips for students to help them understand the work of other scientists and explorers, teaching them about local cultures, how those cultures develop their own conservation policies and what effects those policies have on fragile ecosystems.
In addition, the Burtonsville resident wants to collaborate with science teachers and speak at other schools to expand and share that knowledge. Skariah’s ultimate goal is to help students “understand the big picture and be responsible for the big picture,” she said.
“An amazing fact is that the Galapagos Islands, they’re still moving — they’re moving from west to east. They’re sitting on top of this moving plate and actually have active volcanoes under the sea that are still forming islands. So that knowledge is not [taught from the] textbook,” Skariah said. “I guess the sky’s the limit to what I want to do. … These are important pieces for students to learn.”
Before her voyage to the Islands, Skariah will travel to the National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D.C., with the other educators to participate in hands-on, pre-expedition workshops covering photography and outreach planning and will have the opportunity to network with Lindblad Expeditions naturalists and past fellows, according to the press release.
“I would love to see just continued growth,” Berquist said. “I’d love to see us be able to say that we’ve had a teacher from every single state in the U.S. and every single Canadian province. And just being able to impact as many young people that we can and help them understand that the natural world is worth taking care of and that the world is really connected.”
Karuna Skariah of Burtonsville was selected as one of the 2016 Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellows. Karuna — a talented and gifted teacher at Robert Goddard Montessori School in Seabrook — will embark on a 10-day Lindblad voyage aboard the National Geographic Endeavour to the Galapagos Islands for a one-of-a-kind field experience later this year. Karuna is a National Board Certified Teacher and has taught for nearly 20 years. She is originally from Nepal, a country in South Asia.
Skariah will travel to the Galapagos Islands aboard the National Geographic Endeavour.