Meredith Chicklas, a science teacher at Castle View High School in Castle Rock, believes leading by example is one of the best ways she can teach her students.
That’s why the educator is taking off to Baja, Mexico, on March 18 as part of a teacher fellowship program hosted by the conservation nonprofit Ecology Project International. The fellowship entails an eight-day excursion exploring the area’s ecology. Fellows will also be immersed in the biosphere reserve of Espiritu Santo Island, which sits off the southern coast of the Baja Peninsula.
Ecology Project International is a field science and conservation organization working in ecologically critical environments such as Costa Rica, the Galapagos, Belize and Hawaii.
For her students, Chicklas hopes to bring back lessons on the importance of conservation, and being actively involved in conservation efforts.
“I want to show them that just because we talk about science in the four walls of our classroom,” Chicklas said of her students, “it’s really important to take part in it as well.”
So, leading by example, Chicklas and educators from across North America are going where conservationism is a growing need.
The communities she will visit are experiencing an influx in population, Chicklas said. Consequently, problems with over-fishing have sprung up as residents look to support themselves.
While in Mexico, she and the other fellows will partner with a local marine biologist to conduct field studies and collect underwater data. The group will gather microorganism or organisms in order to determine what species are present and how many there are.
The conservationists can then provide that information to the community, Chicklas said, to help locals better respond to the impact of human activity on nearby eco-life.
Chicklas hopes that she’ll be able to translate her field experience into real-life lessons for her classrooms.
“A lot of the experience will be field work and collecting data and kind of how to share that with your students and get them interested in the conservation effort,” she said.
It’s a lesson she’s eager to teach. Chicklas, a 2013 Michigan State University alumna, studied biological science and chose to teach because of her passion for science and her passion for working with people, she said.
Environmental science, in particular, is an important cause for her.
“We only have one planet. Although sometimes we don’t see the effect of our actions, everything that we’re doing could leave a mark and impact our world. And I think it’s so important to protect it,” she said.
And aside from sharpening her teaching skills, Chicklas is making her school proud. She was selected from a candidate pool of hundreds, according to a release from Ecology Project International.
“We are thrilled with the announcement of Meredith’s fellowship,” Castle View High School Principal Rex Corr said in an email. “This is an outstanding opportunity for Meredith to continue her own professional growth and bring those experiences back to her students and colleagues at Castle View.”
Corr commended Chicklas as a “passionate, energetic and student-centered” teacher who can reach students who don’t immediately connect with science classes. He also noted the merit in teaching by example.
“For our students to have the opportunity to see their teachers continue to pursue those types of experiences — learning by doing — is very impactful. It models the types of learning with which we ask our students to engage,” he said.
And while being selected in an honor, Chicklas said she’s simply grateful to participate in the program.
“I’m just excited to get an opportunity to be hands on,” she said. “You learn best by doing.”