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Pequea Valley, Cocalico, Ephrata and Twin Valley students participate in Costa Rica Tropical Ecosystems STEM trip

Students from the Pequea Valley, Cocalico, Ephrata and Twin Valley school districts participated in the Costa Rica Tropical Ecosystems STEM event June 18-26. The nine-day trip included a visit to Arenal Volcano National Park, Trail 1968. (Photo courtesy of Betsy Techman, Twin Valley School District)

Students from the Pequea Valley, Cocalico, Ephrata and Twin Valley school districts recently traveled to Costa Rica to participate in a nine-day WorldStrides Costa Rica Tropical Ecosystems STEM trip from June 18 to 26.

“Traveling together isn’t just about the places we visit; it’s also about the experiences we share and the memories we create,” participant Adeynn Yunginger said in a statement.

“Traveling is a journey of the soul,” said participant Amelia Madrigal.

“During our visit to Costa Rica, the group and I had the opportunity to experience many new things, such as horseback riding, zip-lining, hot springs and more. The trip was a great opportunity to make some good friends and memories,” Addie Y. said in a statement.

One participant overheard a dinner conversation and said, “I haven’t smiled like that in a long time.”

The group traveled to San José, Arenal, Monteverde and La Cruz. (Photo courtesy of Betsy Techman, Twin Valley School District)

According to the WorldStrides website, the trip to Costa Rica takes students on an exploration of tropical ecosystems. Starting in the capital, San José, the group experienced a world of flora and fauna. They watched lava eruptions at Arenal Volcano, visited a local school, toured a coffee plantation and learned about local cuisine.

“Students and teachers are greatly benefiting and enjoying their trip to Costa Rica, where they can actively participate in experiential learning rather than being passive tourists,” Betsy Techman, Twin Valley’s English language arts specialist, said in a statement.

“By immersing themselves in the local culture of a Spanish-speaking country, students develop their language skills through authentic interactions with native speakers,” Techman said.

The four districts have a long history of traveling together, dating back to 1992. The group has traveled to Costa Rica every other year since 2012, except for 2020. The students work together to fundraise, hold group meetings to prepare and collect school supplies to take to children in Costa Rica, Techman explained.

Since 2012, Techman has coordinated the trip. Each school has a chaperone; Techman coordinates planning and serves as the primary chaperone for Twin Valley. Other chaperones have included Jen Bilby, who teaches Spanish and English at Pequea Valley; Ephrata Spanish teacher Lori Warfel; Cocalico Spanish teacher Kate Gomez; Cocalico science teacher Corry Bilby; and Twin Valley teacher Ruth Hernandez.

The group traveled to San José, Arenal, Monteverde, and La Cruz. They visited Arenal Volcano National Park 1968 Trail, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Santa Elena Biological Reserve, a butterfly garden and organic farm, Playa Rayadas, Britt Coffee Plantation, the Gold Museum, and the National Theater of Costa Rica.

The Costa Rica Tropical Ecosystems STEM trip included a tour of the Britt coffee plantation. (Photo courtesy of Betsy Techman, Twin Valley School District)

“This hands-on approach fosters cultural understanding and sensitivity as students navigate daily life, participate in community activities and appreciate local traditions firsthand,” Techman said.

“In addition, students gain a broader perspective on global issues such as environmental protection and sustainable development by visiting eco-friendly initiatives and learning about Costa Rica’s rich biodiversity,” she added.

“Such immersive experiences not only deepen academic knowledge but also develop personal growth, resilience and the ability to adapt in a diverse and interconnected world,” Techman said.

Activities included a zip-line ride, horseback riding, cooking classes, art classes, dance classes, a visit to hot springs, a boat tour of Palo Verde, a visit to a technical school with students and a guided tour of San Jose.

“We watched as students and adults overcame fear and shared new experiences together. It was beautiful,” Techman said.

Participant Abby Tillman signed up for the trip because her friends were going and she thought it would be fun to travel with them. She didn’t know what to expect, but decided to give it a try.

“This was truly the best choice I’ve ever made,” Tillman said. “Not only did I get to spend time with friends and create memories that will last a lifetime, but I also got to meet new friends that I would have never had the opportunity to meet if not for this trip!”

Tillman believes that for people who have never been outside the U.S., a trip to Costa Rica with WorldStrides is a great starting point.

“You personally won’t have to worry about planning, but you’ll have the advantage and opportunity to experience so many new things and see a completely different way of life and their culture,” she said. “It was truly life-changing to see a completely different world and create so many new, fun memories.”

Tillman recommends students participate in future trips.

“If you have even a modicum of interest and the opportunity to go, I say just do it! You only live once, and Costa Rica is a truly amazing country,” she said.

Even if there are no friends there, I still suggest attending.

“You will find new friends and feel completely safe in the care of your caregivers.”

Tillman concluded, “The opportunity to go on this trip is truly a blessing, and many people only dream of this type of opportunity. Do it, there’s no way you’ll regret it!”