Science teacher Diane DiGravio has taken students to Costa Rica for four years to learn about conservation, preservation and sustainability.
The auditorium at Spry Middle School was the setting Wednesday, June 6, for a special reunion, of sorts.
The 40 Webster students, faculty, parents and friends who made a 10-day journey to Costa Rica in April came together to share photos, stories and reminisce.
“In all my years in education, this (trip) was truly the most moving experience I have had with my students,” said Diane DiGravio, an eighth-grade science teacher at Spry. “It was eye opening and exceptionally emotional for them (the participants) ... the memories of the community service and the trip itself will last them a lifetime.”
DiGravio added that she hopes to inspire other educators to take part in an outreach project like the one in Costa Rica this spring.
No stranger to Costa Rica, DiGravio has been taking students there on spring break for four years now.
Describing herself as “an environmentalist with a strong passion for biodiversity,” DiGravio said her goal with the trips has been to bring awareness of the need for conservation and preservation and to teach about sustainability. She has also organized a group, Leaders for a Greener Tomorrow, at Spry.
This year, a former student, Eraklis “Klee” Hristodoulou, 17, took the trip a step further.
He not only asked his former eighth-grade science teacher, DiGravio, to be his mentor for his required senior project, but also asked if he could do that project in Costa Rica.
In order to graduate, Webster seniors have to do a project that takes at least 15 hours and make a presentation on that project before a panel of judges, Klee explained.
“How many seniors do a senior project in another country?” asked Ahmed Mustafa, a friend and parent who also made the trip with his son in DiGravio’s class.
When he was in eighth grade, DiGravio had just started the trips to Costa Rican trips and he didn’t go, Klee recalled. This year, one of his sisters was in her class and was invited to go.”
“I said, ‘Hey, I want to go, too,’” Klee recalled.
The Webster group of 40, 27 of them students, headed out April 5 and returned April 15. Their tour guide, Mario, of CRTours4U put Klee and DiGravio in touch with a small nonprofit, the Sarapiqui Conservation and Learning Center, before they left.
Through the center, they arranged to plant 500 trees on a farm, in a section of rain forest that had been cut down.
“The day we planted was 95 degrees, but I think it was also the kids’ favorite event of the trip,” DiGravio recalled.
Every year, someone at the center will take pictures of the trees that were planted, DiGravio said, so students can follow their progress and learn about what she calls “responsible lumbering.”
Before the trip, Klee had also collected donations for the center, and presented them with $80.
The entire Hristodoulou family, which owns the Log Cabin restaurant in Macedon, ended up making the trip.
Besides the tree-planting, the group also did a cleanup on an Atlantic coast beach, on the island of Tortuguero, that is a nesting ground for sea turtles.
“And we picked up a lot of litter,” Klee said. The litter can pose a danger to the turtles.
Klee plans on heading to SUNY Geneseo in the fall to pursue a degree in biology.
“I’m thinking about a career in medicine,” he said. He will be working at the family restaurant this summer, and possibly another summer job.
The Costa Rican trip also included activities like zip-lining, white water rafting, horseback riding and a beach day. They saw wildlife like sloths, monkeys and “lots of birds,” Klee said.
And the only countries he has visited, prior to this trip, were Canada and Greece, Klee said.
“This wasn’t just a fun vacation trip, but a great learning experience for the group of students,” Mustafa said.