By Joyce DeWallace, Contributing Writer
Westborough – Twelve students and chaperones Darrell Potosnak and Diane Rodriguez recently spent eight days in Costa Rica learning about environmental sustainability, collaborating with other schools at a global student leadership conference.
Featured presenter, former Vice President Al Gore, shared his passion for the environment alongside internationally recognized Dr. Alvaro Umaña, Costa Rica's first energy and environment minister, and Severn Cullis-Suzuki, a Canadian environmental activist.
Sophomore Jessica Huibregtse felt that “Gore was a good speaker and pointed out what's wrong and right with the environment.”
The two-day summit gave the students a chance to interact with other people, use their Spanish, and learn about other cultures.
At the Innovation Village, the American students were paired with Canadian and Costa Rican peers. They formed teams to develop solutions to problems such as transportation, waste management, carbon footprints and other environmental issues with the hope that what they learned can bring changes to their own communities.
For business teacher Potosnak, organizing her first trip without much time challenged her to scurry around getting all the paperwork prepared, holding parent meetings, and being trained on all aspects of the program sponsored by EFTours.
The trip began in San José, the capital of Costa Rica, and then headed to Tortuguero by bus and a two-hour boat ride. Dressed in dark clothes, the group went on a night-time turtle hunt to find leatherback sea turtles, which are five to six feet in size, and move fast.? A Sea Turtle Conservancy project centers on a protected canal in the Tortuguero National Park.
From their knowledgeable tour guide, Olman, the group learned much about Costa Rica. Ecotourism is its biggest source of income, and coffee is the number one export.? Many of the students brought coffee back as gifts. Some of the teens visited a two-room elementary school. Every meal included rice and beans.
In the Sarapiquì region, they splashed and paddled through the jungle on a whitewater rafting trip. In the Arenal area, they hiked near volcanoes and climbed 500 steps to the La Fortuna waterfall, and then zip-lined on a canopy tour to see the various plants, birds and animals, especially monkeys, from tree top level. The next stop was at a series of hot springs heated by the volcanoes so they could see first hand what geothermal activity produces.
Val Meleshkevich, a freshman who came to Westborough from Russia, said, “I had a natural affinity for Costa Rica's esthetic qualities. The mountains, the green trees, some rivers. The orange of the volcanoes and the blue water were ribbons of color.”
“I realize we need to do more biking and more walking instead of always driving,” said 10th grader Natalya Shcherban. She explained that Costa Rica has a driving ban on certain days and that 18-wheelers have to pull off the road and wait until 9 a.m. to bring their loads into the city.
Junior Saffanah Zaini is from Saudi Arabia. She said, “I feel like I became more aware of the environment, and I try to be more careful. People (in Costa Rica) were very happy; you don's feel negative energy. Maybe that's due to the green and blue. Living in a green environment makes you want to preserve it. Costa Rica is rated number one for happiness in the world.” She hopes that what she learned will help her come up with environmental solutions.
“I felt going to Costa Rica was just a trip, but now coming back I think more about the environment and I's more conscious of my family. The main way to save the planet is to lower the carbon footprint,” explained Toby Moesta, a junior.
Mrs. Rodriguez, a computer science teacher, summed up the trip. “This experience was great for the kids,” she said. “They got to see the world a little bit.”