Kennard Ecology Students Going the Distance

By Sandra Zunino

Kennard Elementary School Advanced Ecology and Distance Learning Club students are counting the weeks to a one-of-a-kind field trip to Costa Rica this summer.

Working in conjunction with the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center (CBEC), the students will meet with educators and students from Escuela Colina Azul (ECA) in Atenas, Costa Rica and study history, culture, geography, rain forests, cloud forests, migratory birds and artificial reefs, all over a ten-day span.

Not only is Costa Rica rich in biodiversity, the way of life for Costa Ricans in Atenas greatly contrasts Eastern Shore living, according to Kennard Elementary Enrichment Specialist Lee Franklin who is also the students advanced ecology teacher. “Everything is different from here,” she says. “I hope they gain a tremendous appreciation for that.”

Lee started the Advanced Ecology Club more than 10 years ago with third grade ecology students invited to attend the advanced class in fourth and fifth grades. Each year, students choose from a list of projects or suggest a new project, then devote time after school to make it their own. Over the years, students have initiated recycling programs, built a wetland habitat, created rain gardens, planted trees, and head-started diamond-back terrapins. “The kids are very dedicated,” says Lee.

Last year, Judy Wink, Executive Director at CBEC approached Lee with an opportunity to involve her students in a Distance Learning project and she agreed. A grant allowed Atlantic Broadband to set up sophisticated webcam technology allowing students to interact with CBEC both visually and audibly.

CBEC also involved Dian Dudderar of the ECA. With the new technology, the ecology students were interacting with Costa Rican students. Last summer, Dian brought seven Costa Rica exchange students to the Eastern Shore and they spent two days working with Lee’s class at CBEC.

After that, the Kennard students voiced interest in visiting Costa Rica. Dian offered her house for lodging and Lee approached the school board with the field trip idea. Consequently, Lee, her husband Jeff, the students and parent chaperones will arrive in Costa Rica and spend ten action-packed days visiting an active volcano, zoos, parks, coral reefs and participating in cultural and ecological experiences of a lifetime.

One goal is to learn about birds that migrate between Costa Rica and Maryland. Students may also investigate water quality and testing, study artificial versus natural reefs, different layers of the rain forest and observe human impact on the environment.

Even though trip hosts Herb Hamilton and Dian are donating housing, the club still needs to raise $15,000 to pay for airfare, passports, ground transportation, food, field trip entrance fees and airport exit fees and have scheduled several fundraising events to meet that objective.

To date, the club has raised more than $2300 through donations, a bake sale at the Kent Island Safeway, Quartermania event at the Goodwill Fire Department and partnering with Good Guys and Dominos Pizza.  With more than $12,000 to come up with, they still have work to do.

On April 24, students will hold a yard sale at the Centreville United Methodist Church. They are also planning to be at a garden fair on May 22 selling student-made items.

A basket bingo is also in the works, but the date and location have not been set. Other events will be advertised in the Update. For more information about the field trip or to make a donation, visit