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Studying Ecology in Costa Rica

The 2017 summer course, "Tropical Ecology Field Study," provided nine Upper School students the opportunity to study and work in the forests, fields, and communities of Costa Rica. This field-based course focused on a variety of biological and conservation themes in some of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet—lowland Caribbean rainforest, highland cloud forest, coastal Pacific rainforest, mangroves, and caves.

The students participated in two service-oriented projects. One project was in conjunction with the Fundacion Conservacionista Costarricense, an organization that has pioneered protection and reforestation of the critically endangered habitat on the Pacific slope of Monteverde. The students planted avocado trees and were instrumental in helping expand the wildlife corridor near the Children's Eternal Rainforest. In particular, they learned the importance of the corridor to the Three-Waddled Bellbird whose numbers have declined dramatically due to the extensive deforestation along their migratory route.

The second service-oriented project involved tending a vegetable garden at Rancho Margot, an eco-friendly, sustainable ranch. The students learned that tending the garden is just one "piece of the puzzle" of the ranch's sustainability. Rancho Margot's philosophy is simply, "Care to learn, Learn to Care," and their mission is to model and share their sustainable practices with visitors, who will hopefully continue these practices when they return home.

The students also experienced the ecosystems of Costa Rica from above by zip lining through the forest canopy; from below by spelunking to explore the home of bats, blind crickets, and tailless whip scorpions; from eye-level by boating through the mangroves and walking through the forests.

The trip was a wonderful, life changing experience, and the comments and thoughts from our students say as much:

"Initially, I came on this Costa Rica Ecology Trip just for fun...but now I can honestly say that it was nothing like I expected it to be and I'm so glad it wasn't...One thing that Mark, our local Naturalist and teacher, mentioned that stuck in my mind was that 'we've barely scratched the surface of understanding our environment.' I believe that if people were more willing to put forth an effort to communicate with each other and be open to learn about important topics, we could get more people interested in wanting to help out on important environmental issues such as forest fragmentation, deforestation, and conservation of different habitats...Never in a million years would I have thought I would come back from this trip a changed person, but it just so happened to be the experience I so desperately needed."

--Megan Singleton

"Personally, this trip has been a source of inspiration...It amazed me how little we know about our own planet, not to mention how little we understand. This helped motivate me to pursue my future of becoming a wildlife researcher and conservation biologist."

--Davis Balser

"This Costa Rican experience was extremely eye-opening. I believe that this trip would be beneficial for everyone at Woodward. Experiencing the Costa Rican culture was my favorite part, and it expanded my mind and views of life in this beautiful world."

--Lori Smith

"In order to keep this beautiful planet and the gifts it has given us safe and protected, we have to learn to be more sustainable."

--Sherya Dhanani

This trip is being offered again in June 2018. The dates are June 18 - 28, 2018.

Davis Balser
Megan Singleton
Davis Balser
Megan Singleton


Elaine Carroll, Lower School Assistant Principal

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