When Frank D. heard he won a free tour with EF EF Explore America, his first thought was (well, after he asked himself if it could be true), “I’m a biology teacher, so where can we go?”
Well, Frank had plenty of tours and destinations to choose from, and ended up deciding on a tour to Florida. As the advisor to the school’s Sierra Club, he opened up the trip, Florida: A Marine Biology Adventure, to students in the club.
In late June, three graduating seniors and five rising seniors headed with Frank and his wife Carol to the Sunshine State. Frank’s group was joined by another group from New Jersey.
Getting to know Florida’s incredible marine life was the main focus of the trip and they had plenty of opportunities to observe and even help out at the Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce and the Mote Marine Laboratory.
The students helped gather specimens for research using a technique called seining. The students skimmed the seafloor with a net held by two poles. They were excited to find and helped identify pipefish and puffer fish. They also got to check out some on-going research on mangrove trees and how plant life could help quell hurricane damage.
One of Frank’s travelers, Lauren, said that when she thinks back on this trip, getting to see a dissection of a squid at the Florida Aquarium will be what she remembers first. A close second will be getting to see the rehabilitation facilities for rescued sea turtles.
For Lauren who classifies herself as a “science-girl, who has taken every science class” her school offers, she was so glad to have the experience to travel with her teacher and classmates.
Her fellow traveler and classmate Ariba, said the trip really sparked her interest in marine biology. For the Indiana teenager, going to Florida was “amazing.” She said for students thinking about traveling, “They should just do it.”
Frank said he was especially pleased with the group’s Tour Director, Chad.
“He was very flexible and wanted to make sure we got the most out of our trip. When we asked about an impromptu trip to Butterfly World, he worked it out and made it happen,’ said Frank. “Also, being from Florida, Chad added a lot of local flavor and knowledge to our tour.”
Here are Frank’s highlights of his tour
– Seeing a crested Caracara. Frank and, as it turned out, two fellow Group Leaders on tour with him, are big birders. The Caracara is only found in a small sliver of Florida, but a sliver of the group went through and they were able to see the impressive bird.
– Getting to enjoy time at the beach and everyone having the chance to be in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf!
– Seeing dolphins near Sarasota
– Getting to hold a puffer fish the size of a softball
– Sleeping with the fishes, in a safe way, at the Florida Aquarium. “I’ll always remember looking out over our group—all 40 or so of them, tucked into their bedrolls with 6-foot sharks and sea turtles swimming in front of them.”
Frank’s advice to future Group Leaders
Be flexible and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Also, take advantage of the people you meet while on tour, even the unexpected connections. Frank’s group got to know their bus driver, Raul, very well and learned a lot from him about his native Cuba.
As a biology teacher, Frank says he would definitely recommend this tour to other science teachers.
“It was a chance to expose them (his students) to marine life that we don’t have here (in the Midwest). I was so glad to have the opportunity to do this for my students.”