Long Distance Learning

The Galápagos Islands are home to a wide variety of “ecologically naive” animals—such as this sea lion—which have no natural fear of humans.

Jefferson Middle School geography teacher Ashlee Beckett got the chance to hone her craft on an expenses-paid trip of a lifetime.

She was one of just 45 educators who were selected by National Geographic as 2019 Grosvenor Teacher Fellows. The Grosvenor Fellowships are a joint venture between National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions, an adventure tourism company. Last year’s trips were to the Arctic, Central America, Alaska, Antarctica and the Galápagos Islands.

“It was a great professional development experience,” says Beckett. “I was excited and invigorated.”

Beckett has been teaching geography at JMS since 2007. She coaches volleyball, is a yearbook advisor and produces Jefferson’s spring musical. She also started the school’s International Night, which so far has raised more than $40,000 for relief in Haiti.

She visited the Galápagos and surrounding areas last year from November 1 to 10, accompanied by National Geographic expedition experts, including naturalists, divers, photographers and videographers. In April, seven months before she departed, Beckett attended a weeklong workshop that gave her more background on the area and also prepared her for life on board a ship and how to get the most out of the expedition.

Ashlee Beckett journeyed to the Galápagos Islands on a Grosvenor Fellowship, awarded through the National Geographic Society. She brought back lessons and service learning projects for her Jefferson Middle School geography students.

She and the rest of the crew departed on the National Geographic Endeavor II. The expedition included stops on Española, Floreana, Santa Cruz and Genovesa islands. Santa Cruz is home to the Darwin Research Station.

Because of the remoteness of some of the areas, Beckett says, “the animals are ecologically naive.” Meaning they don’t hide when humans approach. On Floreana Island, Beckett was greeted by a sea lion. More than one. Sea lions were just about everywhere.

“On deep dives, the animals come right up to you,” she says.

On land, Beckett was captivated by the giant tortoises and the overwhelming abundance and diversity of the birds.

“I couldn’t stop taking pictures of birds,” she says with a smile.

She stayed in touch with her JMS classes through FaceTime, and created a webpage that allowed them to follow her progress.

Beckett’s responsibilities didn’t end with her departure from Galápagos. Grosvenor Fellows are expected to take on a mentoring role for future participants in the program. She departs for Washington, D.C., at the end of March to share her expertise with this year’s crop of explorers, at the workshop that marked the beginning
of her trek.

Geography teacher Ashlee Beckett at home in her Jefferson Middle School classroom.

She also has been producing a number of professional development pieces, including outreach and classroom action plans, a digital log, blog posts and lesson plans to share with other participants in the program.

One lesson features a presentation on the protection and repopulation efforts for giant tortoises, tied in with a service learning project with the goal of supplying learning materials such as books, tablets and Chromebooks to students at the Tomas de Berlanga School on
Santa Cruz Island.

One benefit of Beckett’s Grosvenor Fellow status is a wide range of National Geographic resources available to enhance her lessons.

“They’re the simplest, most effective tools I’ve ever used in my career,” she says. “They teach kids to be curious, to be explorers. To be their own changemakers.”