I am from very humble beginnings. My mother was literally a farmer's daughter and my dad literally came over on the boat from Italy. Neither of my parents graduated from school. My mother got as far as the fourth grade before she had to work full time on the farm. My dad got as far as the sixth grade before he became a full time laborer. Because of their hard lives both of my parents had but one goal in mind ; namely, to make the lives of my two siblings and myself better and easier than it had been for them. The key to this was always, no matter to which parent I spoke, hard work and education. Well, they were right. The three of us have found success in the areas we have chosen to pursue. Because of my parents beliefs, my own experiences, and because I guess the old adage that reads "you plant potatoes, you get potatoes" is true. I too have always believed in hard work and education. This is why 34 years ago now, I decided to become an educator. The concept of hard work has always been my philosophy of education.
I feel a brief history of how I got to go to Antarctica is important for the students who are reading this and for the educators who are reading this (but then again they are both one and the same, because I truly believe that a teacher teaches and learns) the story goes like this:
Back in the early nineties two different branches of the National Science Foundation somehow created a program that was designed to get American students interested in science. It was called "The Young Scholars Program," and involved Dr. Elmima Johnson, and a young lady from the office of Polar Programs, Dr. Jane Dionne. The idea basically was to get five people, five talented young people from across the country, to go to Antarctica to do real live research and to apply what they have learned in school. They would come back and share this experience with their peers and hopefully build, from within, the fires for learning.
Well, the concept was good. The opportunity was even better. The National Science Foundation was building its brand new ice breaker, The Nathaniel B. Palmer. Plans got underway to use this as a research vessel for students, students that came from Dr. Johnson's Young Scholars candidates from across the country.
I guess it was October of l990 when one of my students, Naomi Darling,
came to me with a request for another recommendation. So, I said to her
"where is this one to?" She gave me a paper to read, I read it, I handed
it back to her and I said to her "well, what's the joke Naomi? Nobody goes
to Antarctica." To make a long story short, it was an application for this
program. She asked me if I would fill it out and what I thought her
chances were. I told her "yes" and that if it wasn't political, I felt she
should go. My only involvement, at that time, was a commitment to be
flown, by the National Science Foundation, along with the students, to
Louisiana to see this ice breaker being built. Then my role was to come
back and share this information with my students. As I said, this was
probably October l990. In January 1991 I was working at my part-time job
when Naomi came into the store with her parents and ran up to me and gave
me a big hug and kiss and said "Mr. A, we are going!" Well again, I had no
clue what she was talking about at the time. After her explanation - I
became ecstatic! She was chosen as one of the five young people in this
country to be offered the opportunity to travel to the bottom of the
world, a place where probably since the beginning of time there have not
been l00,000 visitors.
The RVIB Nathaniel B. Palmer. Photograph by S. Klipper, courtesy of the National Science Foundation.
From this point on, my life changed completely. I had to do things I never did before. I had to fly. God made me 5'4" for a reason - I'm afraid of heights. I had to leave my family behind. I had to go to Louisiana to see this ice breaker being built. All the while though, I'm learning. And remember, a teacher teaches and learns. While in Louisiana, I met the other four students, 2 girls and 2 boys and their four teachers from across the country. A girl from Texas, a boy from Louisiana, a girl and boy from California. The kids were excited, so were the teachers. I, myself, became quite fanatical with the excitement , the opportunities here for young people, and possibly for me, were amazing. I decided to that I really wanted to go on this cruise. I felt I HAD to go to the ICE.
Because of my excitement, every chance I had, I kept asking Dr. Johnson and Dr. Dionne - "Can I go? - I want to go - I want to go." Finally, Saturday night we sat down to dinner and I sat next to Jane Dionne and I said to her: "Jane, I have to go. Can you get me job washing the dishes on the ship?" She asked me "Why would you want to go?" My first comment was "What are you, nuts?!" This has got to be the most rewarding, wonderful experience I could imagine. Jane asked what would be the benefit to the National Science Foundation? I didn't have to think long. The original plan was to have the kids get on this adventure then come back and get their peers excited about science in the real world. But these kids were finishing high school. In fact, because of delays in building the ship, Naomi never did come back to her High School as a student. Because of this I told Jane that at least one teacher should go because teachers would probably be around for at least five, or ten, or fifteen years. The teachers could spread the word to the students and to their peers. Jane asked me what the other teachers would think. I told her "Just listen - they all would like to go!"
That night Jane decided that she was going to ask her boss at the National Science Foundation if she could take one of the teachers. She had discussed this with the students and told them not to say anything. If it did come to fruition, they could pick a teacher based on an anonymous essay the teachers would write; the kids themselves would select the teacher to accompany them to the ice. The following day, on the way back to the airport, Jane informed the teachers she was going to try to get one of us to go. Being an eternal pessimist, I KNEW there was no way in a million years I would get to go, but I also, knew that whoever did go, the opportunity for them and their future students would be unending. Jane met with Dr. Peter Wilkniss and told him that she wished to share the experiences of the weekend with him. Dr. Wilkniss had spent Saturday with us and he knew how excited the kids were. Jane told him that she wanted to take one of the teachers to the ice with the kids. His question was "WHY?" Jane told Dr. Wilkniss what I said, that a teacher could serve as a resource for their students and for other educators. Well, I guess Dr. Wilkniss mused over this for a couple seconds and thought it was a pretty good idea. He instructed Jane to try to find the funding that would enable all five of us to go. To this very day I have to thank Dr. Jane Dionne for changing my life in one of the most positive ways ever experienced.
Several Principal Investigators were contacted with the idea that teachers join the students and it was eventually decided and arranged for all five teachers to go. One of the teachers, unfortunately, could not make it because of previous commitments. Things that happened after that are unbelievable. I traveled back to Louisiana. I went to the National Science Foundation in Washington, DC. My experiences grew. My feelings of worth as an educator became something I hadn't experienced in years..
Delays happen, especially when you are dealing with Antarctica. The key to Antarctica is you plan, you plan, you plan and then Mother Nature down there will turn it around so your plans fall apart. I learned that you must have a contingency for your contingency. In any case, the opportunity finally did arise and in May of l992, four teachers, including me, and four students were the first "TEA's" to go to Antarctica. I spent probably two of the most amazing months of my life though it was difficult leaving my family.
As I say in my journal (if your interested in a teacher's experience of 10 life times), to get to Antarctica we sailed from Punta Arenas, Chile. My visit to Antarctica was almost like heaven but to get to heaven you had to go through a little bit of hell; namely The Drake's Passage. The passage is known for twenty-five foot seas. Coming >from Antarctica after two months (a month and a half) on the ice, you want to go home to your family - you want to go back to your heaven on the other side of the world, so again, you must still go through the passage. Coming out this side of the Drake was a little rougher - we had forty foot waves!
I arrived home and got reunited with my family. For the past four years, I have been on a crusade personally to share as many of my experiences with as many people as I can. My Principal Investigators have allowed me to go speak to schools in the area. If anyone is reading this from Massachusetts and would like to contact me and see if we could set up a meeting where I could speak to your classes, e-mail me!
The program for TEA has continued since l992. And, remember, in l992 it wasn't even in existence; teachers weren't even suppose to go! Any of the work that I or any of my '92 peers created was done because we believed it would be worthwhile to our fellow educators and our students. Now TEA's have a commitment they must follow as they provide their daily journals on the Internet. Under the present TEA program, parcticipants make a commitment and their schools should allow them to share their experiences with their peers on a local, state or national level - experiences that are unbelievable (32 degrees below zero, walking with penguins, seeing ice bergs 8-l0 miles long and 200' high). TEAs make a commitment to include their experiences in their course work. I have incorporated my Antarctic experience in my biology and physical science work. I constantly use my experiences in Antarctica as a theme.
I think I have babbled on long enough. Hopefully you have a little flavor of me, a little flavor of the amazing experience that I had, and hopefully you have a sense of yourself as an educator or even yourself as a student. Please remember, none of the five students who went nor any of the teachers had any clue that this would even happen to them. If you are like most of us, especially me, you know absolutely nothing about Antarctica. As I speak to people from Grade l to Senior Citizens, I find it amazing that this continent, an continent the size of United States and Mexico, together, over 5.4 million square miles, is really a lost continent. What little knowledge is out there, nine times out of ten is wrong.
I invite you to share my experiences with me by referring to the journals enclosed in this parcticular web page. I also invite you to share the experience with the people who are presently on the ICE. The TEA program is growing. It is a concept established by partnership between research and education, a partnership between two agencies, the Directorate of Education and Human Resources and the Office of Polar Programs. It is a delicate partnership, but built on individuals with a strong commitment to fostering the program. Enjoy your adventure!
Map of Antarctica. The Dry Vallys is the site of Peter Amati's work.
Two high school teachers, Barb Schulz of Seattle and my self will join the
research team in early November (before heading to the field site). We
will be working at McMurdo Station and in the Dry Valleys. We are
spearheading a new project linking classrooms in the United States with
support-contract personell living and working at McMurdo Station. We plan
to organize volunteers (we have already had seventy plus people volunteer,
but with room in the program for only twenty four) to communicate via
e-mail with teachers who want to incorporate Antarctic information into
their lesson plans. The project is designed to increase public awareness
of Antarctic life, work and science; all of which are majors goals of the
NFS sponsored Teachers Experiencing Antarctica and the Arctic Program.