Nestled between Mexico and Guatemala on the Caribbean coast of Central America lies the country of Belize.
Belize is home to the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, has one of the most extensive cave systems and has the greatest percentage of protected land mass in the region.
The beautiful Belize was also the home, albeit temporarily, to Amy Oswalt, an intervention specialist at Cassingham Elementary.
For most of the month of July, Oswalt spent her time snorkeling with squid, octopi and bioluminescent fish; bonding with jaguars, manatees and black howler monkeys; and fending off the advances of an overly friendly Boa constrictor.
All of this was done in the name of education. Well, mostly.
"There was a large element of work I had to do even though it sounds romantic, but I admit I spent a few days just hanging out," she laughs.
She went to Belize as a part of the Global Field Program (GFP) from Project Dragonfly at Miami (Ohio) University, where she is working on her second master’s degree. As part of the program, all GFP master’s degree candidates engage in field conservation work at hot spots such as Africa, Asia and the Americas for first-hand experience with inquiry driven education and environmental preservation.
"I grew up on a farm so conservation and ecology are very near and dear projects to me," Oswalt said. "I get very excited about conservation."
While in Belize, she, along with 20 additional educators, visited the Community Baboon Sanctuary, which encompasses more than 12,980 acres of broadleaf forest, wetlands and pasture farmlands, the jungle-like Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center, the Gales Point Manatee Sanctuary and Tobacco Caye with its extensive barrier reef.
"It was great because we could all pretend that we were scientists and real explorers," she said. "It felt very Indiana Jones."
Traversing the country for graduate credit was not all she did, though. She made special contacts with scientists from the Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center and several Belize natives in hopes of bringing their knowledge and experience back to the classrooms of Cassingham Elementary in Bexley.
After all, Oswalt is no stranger to getting projects put together with people of different countries.
Last spring, she wrote a grant to the Bexley Education Foundation for the school-wide "Live from the Jungle" project to produce video lessons and support live student interaction with a scientist from Trinidad.
This school year, the third grade students will speak with Dr. Bernadette Plair about the blue-and-gold macaw, a bird species that was on the brink of extinction in that country.
"I am hoping we can develop something similar to that program with the connections that were made in Belize," she said.
When not in the classrooms at Cassingham, Oswalt will be editing a documentary she made about Trinidadian wildlife and Hindu festivals for "Live from the Jungle," deciding on where she wants to go next for Project Dragonfly – Baja, Calif., Mexico and Thailand are at the top of her list – and encouraging other educators to get involved in Earth Exploration.
"I would love to replicate these trips for kids, or to try and create an inquiry trip to Belize for high school students," she said. "In fact, I’m volunteering right now to chaperone."