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Jungle Junkies

Costa Rica welcomed American Academy students with countless adventures and experiences. Left to right: Sixth graders Cameron Eckhardt, Phillip Ullom, Ava Stotler, Kelsey Ekstrom, Abigail Williams, Isabella Bennion, Maya Liotta, Haylie Martin, Emily Sekol, Cassandra Howard, Kayla Bochynski, Aidan Parker, Christopher Bowers, Chris Todd (in front of Christopher Bowers), Daniel Jolly, Owen Williams, Grant Tatum, Kristi Doke (AA chaperone/STEM assistant) and Frank Garita (local native/guide in front of Kristi Doke).


By Julie Matuszewski; photos courtesy of American Academy

The Osa Peninsula is home to 50% of all species found in Costa Rica and was noted by National Geographic as, “The most biologically intense place on Earth.” Its dense forest of mingled trees with roaming wildlife sent 16 eighth grade students from all three American Academy (AA) campuses packing for the adventure of a lifetime.

The week of travel did have its share of challenges, from dry to humid climate changes for some, rustic accommodations for others and limited food options of rice, beans and fruit for most. The adventures set before them outweighed any other challenge.

The students had the privilege to work with the Latin American Sea Turtles (LAST) organization, assisting with sea turtle conservation in Golfo Dulce. They also worked under the guidance of naturalist Frank Garita and observed a dozen humpback whales as the females migrated north with their newborns. One humpback whale put on quite a show as it dove, showing the group its fluke. Studying the whale through their camera lenses, the group learned how photos of the fluke can be submitted into a database in hopes of getting a match to learn more about that specific whale.

The primary purpose of this trip was for students to learn through hands-on experience about sea turtles and mangrove forest conservation, as well as humpback whale migration. The group first set off by foot and observed the jungle tapirs, anteaters, monkeys, bats, and more. By boat they were taken down the Sierpe River to assess the well-being of green and hawksbill sea turtles. Students assisted in measuring, weighing, checking for injuries and parasites and to see if the turtles had been tagged.

Reefs to Rockies co-founder Sheridan Samano observed students Phillip Ullom, (left) Aidan Parker (middle) and Owen Williams (right) as they measured and tagged a captured sea turtle.


Working closely with the turtles and mangrove forests, students realized how crucial healthy mangroves are for sea turtle conservation, marine life and humans. Mangroves provide a safe haven for animals and protect the shoreline. Kelsey Ekstrom from the Castle Pines campus thought Costa Rica was a trip of a lifetime. Ekstrom said she is most thankful for the opportunity to work with the sea turtles and felt tagging, measuring and helping the sea turtles was such an amazing learning experience.

Abigail Williams said it best, “From the moment we landed until the moment we saw a whale, it was a jaw dropping, unreal experience that was unbeatable. This trip was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” Costa Rica is certainly one trip that these 16 eighth grade students will never forget.

After a full day afoot exploring the wonders of the jungle, the group cooled off in a waterfall at Campanario.

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