By Karlene Skretting
Westwind Weekly News
“Looking at it on a screen or in a textbook, does not compare with the actual physical experience of getting out there and participating,” said Stirling School teacher Mark Iwaasa, who accompanied six female students in grades nine through 12 and a parent chaperone to Belize over Easter break.
“Viewing is one thing, participating is another.”
That was the whole idea behind the trip, to give the Stirling youth an opportunity to actively participate in an international experience where they got to understand a different culture, history and environment first hand.
“For me, there is just a lot more to the world than what we have locally. A lot of kids don’t really leave southern Alberta and the furthest they have travelled is 400 or 500 kilometers in any direction,” said Iwassa who is always a bit surprised when he hears a student say such.
He sees being comfortable traveling as a critical skill, the ability to travel somewhere new and experience something different. Iwaasa hopes that skill was gained and nourished well in Belize.
Iwaasa cited three main reasons for the trip to Belize. 1) To teach the students about biodiversity, by visiting an ecosystem that is a major contrast from southern Alberta. 2) To allow students the opportunity to experience and appreciate a different culture. 3) To visit a school and spend time with local students in a developing nation, giving back through donated school supplies, so that that the Stirling youth could see how fortunate they are to attend school in a Canadian classroom.
Providing students with the opportunity to travel has been a priority of the Stirling School for the last seven years explained Iwaasa, who teaches Grade 7 through 12 sciences.
“We alternate every two years, one year is more Europe based, which is more historical and social studies related with one that is more science biodiversity related where we try to take kids to a different ecosystem.”
Belize marked the fourth adventure for Stirling students, and an adventure it was, the girls got to enjoy zip lining, cave tubing, a jungle hike and swimming with turtles over the course of the eight day trip.
“For being kind of a prairie orientated environment here, I thought it was a good experience to visit a coastal area that would allow kids to interact with fish, sharks, rays and turtles.”
The girls also got to visit Mayan temple ruins, see native animals at the Belize Zoo and Baboon Sanctuary and tour an old sugar mill.
The Lamanai Ruins, a Mayan settlement that was inhabited for a 1000 years starting in 250 B.C. really left an impression on Iwaasa and the girls.
“It was an interesting idea that people could inhabit the equivalent of a city for over a 1000 years and just vanish, said Iwaasa adding that, if a building lasts a 100 years in North America it becomes a heritage site, but down there some of the structures were a thousand to two thousand years old.
When the girls were asked about their favourite moments or adventures, they couldn’t pick a single favourite, but there is one thing they could agree on, Belize was a great experience.
“I loved being able to experience the world instead of just hearing about it, because I am a visual learner,” said grade 11 student Kendra Quilty.
And Iwaasa agrees that looking at a laptop or textbook is no substitute to an actual physical experience.
In order to help reduce costs associated with the trip, the students held a hotdog day, once a week, for the two years prior to leaving. “The Raymond Mercantile was very helpful donating some of the food supplies to help with our fundraising efforts.”