The Galapagos Come to Russell Road

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So, how much do you think you know about the Galapagos Islands?

By the end of the week, theres a good chance that the students of Alexandria Country Day School could beat you in a trivia contest.

From March 16 to 20, the ACDS students all of them, from kindergarten to 8th grade are taking part in the schools annual Festival of Learning, an event that brings the curriculum in every class together around a single theme, which this year is the Galapagos Islands.

The volcanic island chain, brought to prominence with the publication of Charles Darwins On the Origin of Species in 1859, is the focus of a week of events ranging from an IMAX movie at the Smithsonian, to guest lecturers from groups like the World Wildlife Fund and National Geographic, to a traditionally Ecuadorian dinner the islands are a part of Ecuador, of course.

In recent years the Festival of Learning has included other far-off places like Mexico, China and the United Kingdom, and also places as close as the Chesapeake Bay. The schools faculty usually decide on the theme a year or two before, but this year was exceptional, according to Donna Molinari, the schools director of communications.

The faculty had decided to focus on the Middle East this year, but changed its mind when they heard about librarian Elizabeth Lockwoods travel plans.

Lockwood was picked to be one of 30 American teachers from varying specialties to embark on a trip to the Galapagos last year with the goal being to develop teaching curriculum for years to come. The timing was almost too perfect.

It was a really great experience, Lockwood said. It was a very environmentally focused trip, with lectures along the way about recycling, energy and water conservation. There were a lot of different elements brought about by having all of the different teachers.

This years study of the Galapagos came at the confluence of Lockwoods trip, an increasing awareness about the global effects of climate change, the 200th anniversary of Darwins birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, the book that famously articulated the theory of evolution.

In planning this years event, Lockwood was able to draw on her travels, from the broader global narratives to the people and animals that inhabit the diverse islands, which are located several hundred miles west of Ecuador.

The wildlife was just beyond anything you could imagine, and the animals have no fear, so theyre right there, Lockwood said. Its beautiful in its own way harsh and very striking, kind of like the desert.

At the end of the week, the students will get a taste of Ecuador and the Galapagos and also operate different theme stations in a school-wide fair. Molinari said every student is involved in some way.
Even kindergarteners, theyre a little small to get the biodiversity theme of the IMAX movie, but one of them looked at me on the bus and said, Is that for real?! Molinari said. Its a little too much for [the youngest students], but they loved the animals so they still got something out of it.

Regardless of age, each Festival of Learning seems to provide something unique for each student.
Its hard to pick my favorite part, but I like learning about far-away places and getting to go around and see what other students learn, fourth-grader Jeremiah Carter said. Weve also learned about the animals and how scientists name them.

When we do stuff about this, it makes us more aware like now I think more about recycling and understand how it affects people in the Galapagos, eighth-grader Kieran Hampl said. The coolest thing about the Galapagos is the diversity of the animals, having animals that dont live anywhere else in the world.

Each years focus produces different highlights for all of the students.

China was my favorite, eighth-grader Marcus Rasmussen said. We had so many stories, and people from other countries.

For the China dinner, you brought in blankets and sat on the ground and ate food, Hampl said. The dinners are always the best.

It figures that after a week full of learning, the food is a little extra-satisfying and memorable.

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