Bret Harte science students, teacher recap Belize excursion

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Bret Harte science students, teacher recap Belize excursion

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Read the original story at Calaveras Enterprise. 

Bret Harte High School science teacher Jerre Maurer isn’t a big fan of run-of-the-mill school field trips, but she did recently take four of her students to Belize for eight days to study its ecology and culture.

“We learned about the ecology, history and people of Belize, snorkeled for four days in the Glover Reef off of Middle Caye Island, and swam, tubed and hiked in the jungle of the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary,” Maurer said.

Junior Amanda Cox, sophomores Rick Davis and Sam Lewis and freshman Taylor Lowell were the four. They each raised approximately $3,000 to fund their trips. The nonprofit organization Ecology Project International set up their itinerary. Maurer discovered the nonprofit, which offers ecological study trips to various locations, by happenstance in her email account.

“I just happened to see it in my teacher email, and didn’t delete that one,” Maurer said. “I decided to check it out and thought it was cool and I didn’t think we’d get as many kids as we did the first time around.”

Maurer first chose to take students on an Ecology Project International trip in 2013, when a group of 12 Bret Harte students ventured to Costa Rica for a study of turtles. The Belize trip was meant to be a study of dolphins and other marine biology, but there weren’t many dolphins seen around the islands when the group was there, so Maurer had her students focus on the specimens available.

“Since we couldn’t collect data on the dolphins, we created other research, which was still really good,” she said. “A few groups that went out to the coral reefs learned it’s very challenging to be a field biologist, being out there in the reef with the waves and everything trying to measure, and another group did a report about hermit crabs on the island. There was a lot of good basic science, knowing how to use the scientific method and collecting data from the field.”

Lowell said the reef work was challenging.

“We had to try and find some conch, a kind of mollusk, and that was difficult because you couldn’t tell if it was a conch or a rock or a crab shell,” she said.

The exploration of the reef and all of the other learning activities were guided by Ecology Project International teachers.

“They talked about how the lion fish is an invasive fish, so they’re trying to capture it, because it can pretty much eat anything and mess things up in the ecosystem,” Maurer said. “So the ecology teachers tried to find some, and actually found one that we did a dissection on.”

The students had to complete a report of their findings using the scientific method but also got to spend plenty of time soaking up their scenery while snorkeling, hiking, tubing down the Sittee River and swimming under a waterfall.

“We went on one hike up to a waterfall, and there was a big swimming pool at the bottom,” Lowell said. “And we got to go on inner tubes down the river for a few hours, which was really fun. And … we got to see what the jungle looked like at night.”

The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, which has one of the largest jaguar preserves in the world, gave the students an up-close view of jungle animals.

But group members also encountered wild creatures at their lodgings.

“There were tons of cool spiders and frogs around, things like that,” Maurer said.

The small Bret Harte group in Belize was paired with other schools for activities, specifically a group of Berkeley High School students, and one student from Montana.

“They were really friendly, and it was fun to hang out with them for the trip,” Lowell said.

“I hadn’t done that before, but it actually worked out great,” Maurer said of joining with students from other schools. “The students bonded with each other, and the other teacher was really cool, so it was a good mesh.”

Maurer hopes to take another group on an international ecology trip to Belize in 2017.

“I’d been to Belize before and this was better than the other trips I had gone on.”