Six RACC high school teams from Vermont and Puerto Rico initiated a high school science and cultural exchange program during the spring of 2016. RACC high school teams met last summer at the 2015 Streams Project high school training week at Saint Michael's College, which is geared towards promoting scientific research focused on adaptation to climate change in both regions. The exchange started with a trip to Vermont in March for four teachers and ten students from Jose E Aponte de la Torre High School, Juan Ponce de Leon High School, Aurea E Quiles High School, and Academia Maria Reina. Then, students from Vermont schools Hartford High School and Bellows Free Adademy-Fairfax traveled to Puerto Rico during the April school break.
While in Vermont, students visited Hartford High School where they learned data collection methods to measure carbon in plants and to determine how soils absorb water and nutrient runoff with Curriculum Developer Didi Pershouse. Students were welcomed by the Spanish class where they shared typical cuisines from Vermont and Puerto Rico, while practicing speaking in Spanish. Students visited a nearby sugar shack as well as Dartmouth College to tour the campus and visit the life sciences building. Dartmouth graduate students spoke about their research on soil carbon cycling and evolutionary ecology.
Students then traveled to Bellows Free Academy-Fairfax to participate in homestays with local families. While in Fairfax, students attended a Spanish class, a social studies class, and learned how to construct Global Decomposition Bags for deployment in Puerto Rico. Students also visited the Proctor Maple Research Center and the Green Mountain Dairy Farm to tour a working dairy farm and biodigester.
A couple weeks later, Vermont students and teachers traveled to Puerto Rico during their spring break. Students visited the Children's Museum in Carolina and toured by boat the Pinones Lagoon and mangrove channels. Students experimented with a typical Puerto Rican lunch, followed by a tour of Old San Juan. They visited the afterschool program at Jose E Aponte de la Torre High School for chemistry, physics, research methods, and botany classes.
The trip to the El Verde Field Station, which is managed by the Luquillo Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Program, started with a talk by Dr. Jess Zimmerman and Sarah Stankavich. Students learned field protocols for soil characterization, vegetation dynamics research, and data entry. That afternoon, the teams kayaked at the bioluminescent bay in Las Croabas. Students visited nesting sea turtles at the Northeast Ecological Corridor (NEC), in Luquillo and learned Bomba y Plena dances before having free time to explore the beach.
Teams visited the LTER Schoolyard parcel in the Guanica Dry Forest Reserve which included a hike to Fort Capron Ruins and the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) Site and board walk. The final day in Puerto Rico included a tour of the Arecibo Observatory and the Juan Ponce de Leon High School in Florida. While at the school, students learned about vegetation protocols and parcel delineation before collecting data in the school forest.
Both students and teachers benefited from these cultural and scientific exchanges. A second exchange program will be planned for the subsequent school year, and will involve more high schools from Vermont and Puerto Rico.