Today’s guest blog comes from Sandra Turner, who works to promote the equitable advancement of climate literacy and ocean conservation. The Geography of Awe is the name of her latest National Geographic Society grant project, where she integrates her fieldwork and expertise in cartography and multimedia storytelling to share her love for the Caribbean’s rich culture and biodiversity. See her bio to learn more.
Every so often, we get the rare chance to experience genuine awe and inspiration. This was the case when Amy Heemsoth extended the invitation to join her this past April at William Knibb High School as she concluded her Jamaica Awareness of Mangroves in Nature (J.A.M.I.N.) program. I was in Jamaica conducting conservation research and fieldwork on another part of the island. Still, after months of phone calls, I could not resist the opportunity to meet Amy in person and learn more about the incredible work she does in the region, teaching students about marine ecosystems.
As a National Geographic Certified Educator and Explorer currently working to increase the equitable advancement of climate and ocean literacy to students in vulnerable global communities, Amy and I converged on the idea of deepening student citizen science and storytelling engagement. As I reflect on the impactful day spent with Amy, the students, and the staff, there are a few unforgettable moments worth sharing.
First, I will always remember the warm greetings from Amy and members of the school, followed by seeing the students vividly excited about completing their mangrove research projects and the long-awaited moment to plant their mangrove seedlings in a nearby seabed. I recall listening and watching Amy intently as she prepared students for what to expect. The students were so excited they could hardly contain themselves as they were given their J.A.M.I.N t-shirts before boarding the bus. I felt like family as Amy called me from across the room to ensure I received a t-shirt, too! The energy of the moment was so infectious that I recall hugging Amy several times and thanking her for inviting me to experience the moment’s joy.
We all had a ball planting the seedlings! I was astonished to see the student actively engaged and attentively placing the seedlings with such care and purpose. I appreciated how they partnered and supported each other throughout the planting process. They all cheered, danced, and hi-fived each other every step of the way. Even the adults joined in on some of the fun and dance action!
Later back at the school, it was evident to see the respect, admiration, and appreciation the students felt for Amy and for being in the program. I watched as the students proudly received their certificates of completion and gave Amy smiles, handshakes, and hugs. Most memorable, I saw Amy close to tears as one student shared thunderous words of gratitude on behalf of all the students.
After the ceremony, Amy and I were invited to visit students during their science lecture. I recall the students’ very detailed and well-developed responses when I asked what they knew about climate change. Impressed by how well they comported themselves around such a complicated phenomenon, the overall site visit at William Knibb Memorial High School proved to be the ideal school for implementing National Geographic educational programming to further expand student engagement and to also enrich the J.A.M.I.N. program.
Just when you think it couldn’t get any better, Amy, her colleagues, and I were sent away with the highest of Jamaican honors – a delectable lunch prepared by the hands of a skillful chef to close the day.
The Caribbean is home to more than 43 million tenacious people, of which 12.6 million are some of the most vulnerable children in the world. Scientists agree that the Caribbean will continue to face disproportionate impacts due to a changing climate. Partnering with organizations in the region to help implement effective public outreach and educational programs is a crucial part of my work as a National Geographic Explorer. I am grateful to Amy for the opportunity to collaborate with the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation in the months to come; to help ensure that all children have the chance to learn about the environmental complexities of our time and to become active participants in building more resilient landscapes. We agree that education plays a critical role in helping students of all communities to thrive and pursue their dreams.