Whole-Group-2UAHS students visit another country in order to immerse themselves in science

By Hashem Anabtawi, ’15 and Jane Eskildsen, ’15

This journey here on Andros…is a learning experience for everyone, from when the plane lands to when the plane takes back off a week later,” Andros intern Tyler Fountain said.

Fountain, an intern at a field station on Andros Island, interacts and teaches students who go on the trip.

“Not being distracted by the business of the westernized world and being able to just sit back and enjoy the sound of silence is truly an unforgettable feeling,” Fountain said.

Each year, Biology teacher Lynn Reese gathers students willing to endure life in nature and with an optimistic mindset to take a trip to Andros Island in the Bahamas. The students stay on the island for a week, where they scuba dive, explore and learn from a series of UAHS advisors and interns staying in Andros.

“It’s nature and life, and that’s all they have to appreciate and enjoy the week that they are there,” Reese said.

The adventure is strongly recommended by UAHS teacher Amanda Fountain, a chaperone on one of the three Andros trips this summer. She said anyone interested in studying the oceans or looking for a special trip and learning opportunity would enjoy the excursion.

“Andros is a unique tropical experience that is unadulterated and all natural, without all of the prefabricated hype that most of us are used to when we travel to tropical locations,” Fountain said. “Forget commercialization and simple conveniences, because you won’t find those on Andros. Instead, Andros offers you the chance to really live.”

This year, the second trip of 30 students, including junior Grace Brethel, took the trip for a week to Andros and came back with new friends, unforgettable memories and a true appreciation for the outdoors.

“I would definitely recommend the trip to other people,” Brethel said. “I would say if you’re looking to go somewhere in the Bahamas that is like a resort area, this isn’t the trip for you; if you’re into adventuring and camping, then this is the trip for you. If you’re looking to make a lot of long-time friends also, then definitely go.”

Activities

At 2,300 square miles, Andros is the largest island of the Bahamas and the fifth-largest island in the Caribbean, according to the official website of the Bahamas. Its miles of deserted beaches and freshwater lakes play host to countless species of wildlife, marine life, flora and fauna.

“The trip forces all participants to dive in with all five senses to really experience the science and culture of the island,” Fountain said.

Andros is covered with vast areas of wetlands that create channels perfect for bonefishing, a sport in which the rare bonefish is hunted. They are found mostly in tropical waters and are difficult to catch.

When visitors feel like taking a break from their adventures, the island offers quaint settlements and secluded beaches known for their local charm and laid-back lifestyle.

There are many activities for visitors to take part in. Senior Eric Berger said he enjoyed the experience overall, but he particularly enjoyed being in the water.

“My favorite activity was easily scuba diving,” Berger said. “I would recommend all aspiring Andros students to take the opportunity to get scuba certified before the trip.”

Fountain also goes into detail about the numerous other activities students undergo during the trip. According to Fountain, the activities are practically endless.

“The days are full with learning through a variety of activities, such as snorkeling, nature walks in different environments, science education in the field and in a classroom, hands on learning in the water and on land, and cultural interactions with locals in Red Bays [Village], where they weave baskets and practice sustainable living,” Fountain said. “There’s also tasting traditional Bahamian food, trying edible plants, learning how to identify different plants and wildlife on the islands and the learning and activities go on and on.”

Both students and teachers were attracted to the blue holes; Fountain said they are one of the most memorable parts of the trip.

“I loved the freshwater blue holes,” Fountain said. “They were a cool respite that you can jump into and just relax. I also really enjoyed snorkeling and learning how to identify the creatures that we were swimming with.”

The blue holes have their own historical background that reveal the past of the island that surrounds them.

According to the Bahamas website, blue holes, found inland, are formed by water erosion and flooding at the end of the last ice age. The oceanic holes connect to the intricate inland underwater cave system. As the tides rush in and out, ideal feeding grounds are formed for the animals of the Bahamas.

A unique feature of inland blue holes is their layer of fresh water that sits upon layers of salt water below. The name “blue hole” comes from the indigo color of the water in the center of the opening, according to the Bahamas website.

Along with offering a fascinating adventure in a faraway place, the trip had an impact on some students’ future careers and daily lives.

Deep Impact

“One of the biggest takeaways from the trip is the reminder that we are all connected to each other and the natural world around us,” Fountain said. “Every action we take leaves an impact on others and our world, so be nice to each other

and gentle toward our environment so others can experience the same thrill of seeing nature in action.”

The trip allows students to see the world through a different lens.

“When students are immersed in a field experience like Andros, or any other field experience, they learn so much more than just the set curriculum. Students learn not only about science on the trip, but also about themselves,” Fountain said. “Their eyes are opened to another culture, another country and another environment so different from UA.”

The trip also had an impact on Brethel and her daily life as a result of the bonding she made between her peers.

“Making new friends was definitely the best part of the trip, and I would recommend it to anyone that is willing to take the leap,” Brethel said. “It was probably one of the best weeks of my life, and it definitely had a lasting effect on me.”

Reese said the trip has an impact on all of the participants. The barrier between teachers and students wears down as the group bonds.

“I often have said that I learn more about a student in a week on the island than I do sometimes in a year having that same person in class. I see a totally different kid sometimes on the island, where in class they are kind of withdrawn and disinterested, they’re bored,” Reese said. “On the island they are really enthusiastic and eager to explore. I think it definitely lends itself well to hands-on learners.”

The ultimate value of the trip, to Fountain, is the new experiences, new friends and unforgettable adventure.

“You will learn, you will make new friends, get to know people on a deeper, purer level, and you will force yourself to stretch and grow beyond your imagination,” Fountain said. “The people of Andros are wonderful, the natural environment is spectacular and the roads are absolutely atrocious.”

Photo caption: Row 1:  Senior Alex Hoey (left), senior Alex Beery, senior Louisa Varanese, junior Sari Royer and teacher Lynn Reese. Row 2:  Teacher Melissa Hasebrook (Left), senior Tommy Ward, senior Eric Berger, senior Meredith Grilliot, senior Lauren Wagner,  senior Audrey Pottschmidt, senior Kate Hennessey, senior Maggie Hobson, junior  Sydney Metcalf and senior Megan Wheeler. Row 3: Senior Cole Hendrix, junior Libby Royer, senior Molly Plasket, junior Grace Brethel, junior Kelly Strayton, junior Isabelle Scott, senior Avery Brick, senior Katie Porter, senior Haley Plahuta, senior John Scott and teacher Chris Hasebrook. Row 4: Junior Drew Farber, senior Sam Beam, senior Ryan Valette, senior Brian Barnett, teacher Amanda Fountain, junior Dan Rumpz, senior Mitch Holland and senior Matt Daehn.

Photo Courtesy Chris Hasebrook