Annual trip to Andros offers students a unique perspective on biology

by Ella Koscher

A typical high school biology class is loaded with paperwork, textbook readings and organized experiments. The syllabus is set in stone and there is little time to explore. In an entire year, a student will not encounter hammerhead sharks or octopi in their natural habitat, or start class by going on an early morning scuba dive. No, these experiences are only available on the island of Andros.

Since the 1970s, groups of biology students from UAHS have traveled to the remote island of Andros in the Bahamas. The annual eight-day trip offers a unique and beneficial style of learning, different from sitting in a classroom.

Lynn Reese, a UAHS science teacher and longtime coordinator of the Andros trip, described the trip’s advantages for students.

“It’s a great way to take students to a completely different ecosystem,” Reese said. “[It] give[s] them an opportunity to explore coral reefs and other organisms they could not possibly find in Ohio.”

While in Andros, students worked first-hand in the field and were always actively learning. Reese said the trip can intrigue students who are typically bored or find it difficult to learn in a traditional classroom setting.

“On the island [the kids] are really enthusiastic and eager to explore. I think it definitely lends itself well to hands-on learners,” Reese said.

Every year, roughly 20 students go on the trip. In the summer of 2013, sophomore Olivia March was one of these students.

“I really like biology and I figured what better way to develop my biology skills than go have a hands-on experience in Andros,” March said.

Between days exploring the land and days snorkeling in the sea, March feels that she took more away from Andros than in the classroom.

“It was such a hands-on experience. Everything I learned on the trip I feel like I will know for so much longer,” March said. “I feel like it is just better implanted in my brain because I didn’t just learn it looking at a board, I learned it in the ocean.”

Students learned about the geography of the island and heard lectures almost every night about what they would be learning when they were in the ocean. The island and sea become their classrooms, and each day brought a new discovery.

“The learning was put into what we were doing,” March said. “It didn’t feel like learning at all.”

On the trip, students are isolated from their familiar developed worlds and are surrounded by science.

“You are immersed in biology,” Reese said. “You can’t possibly ignore biology on the island. It’s a relatively undeveloped island so cellphones don’t connect, there’s no cell service, there’s not wifi. It’s nature and life and that’s all you have to appreciate and enjoy the week that they are there.”

Without technology, students are able to explore biology without distraction or interruption from a school bell. Overall, the trip offers a unique perspective of biology minus the lab reports and lengthy textbooks.

March would recommend the trip to anyone eager to learn more about biology.

“It was such a great experience,” March said. “I definitely do not regret it [and] I would definitely do it again.”

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Left: A rusted boat floats in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Andros. The group discovered man-made structures as well as marine life while exploring in the ocean.

Middle: (From left to right) Stacy Gibson, Hannah Barker, Kirstin Stephensen,  Sara Newhouse, Olivia March and Katie Rapp dress up for a night on the town. The group ate at local restaurants and experienced new, exotic food.

Right: A starfish lies in the sand on Andros. The starfish was part of the many different marine life discovered by the students.

All photos courtesy of Olivia March.