ELYRIA — By now, Midview Middle School eighth-grade science teacher Kelly Groomes has gotten used to the gibes.
“Groomes, where are you going this summer,” she hears. “Groomes, where are you vacationing next?”
While her trips aren’t exactly a vacation, Groomes does get the opportunity to travel to some pretty exotic locations — all in the name of education.
For the past three summers, she has traveled to Baja, Belize, and most recently, the Great Barrier Reef, while pursuing her master’s degree in art and zoology.
Groomes, 36, of Medina, is part of Miami University’s Project Dragonfly. The Global Field Program brings master’s degree candidates, scientists, educators, community leaders and others together at conservation hotspots in Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas for firsthand experience. The program’s candidates join a growing network of leaders who work collaboratively to bring about change in local and global contexts. Field sites include Australia, Kenya, Namibia, Mongolia, Borneo, Thailand, Belize, the Amazon Rainforest, Baja, Costa Rica and Guyana, with future conservation and education partnerships anticipated in the Galápagos Islands, India and more.
“I knew I wanted to somehow connect it with science, specifically marine science,” she said of getting her master’s. “I wanted to be around water.”
A friend of hers was at the zoo and brought back a flier about Project Dragonfly for Groomes.
It was a perfect fit. She takes online courses during the school year and spends 10 days in the summer studying in the field.
The experience gives students the opportunity to study the area’s ecology, animals, education system, culture and conservation.
“It’s a mixture of everything, whether it be animals, the different people living there or even the food,” the Elyria native said.
Each location stands out for its own reasons, but Groomes still has a favorite.
“Baja was the best,” she said. “Maybe it was because it was new, so it was still exciting, but we snorkeled with whale sharks and swam with sea lions.”
And when students went out on the boat one morning, they were surrounded by pods of dolphins.
In Belize, she observed manatees and heard a local conservationist discuss issues with the sea creatures there.
While she was in Australia, she was housed in the aquarium for the duration of her stay. Students snorkeled inside of the reef tank, which she described as “amazing.”
That was just practice for the Great Barrier Reef. At the reef, students prepared a health assessment of the reef, which was then turned in to the wildlife department. She observed sea turtles and two sting rays before even entering the water.
Students paired up to scuba dive and snorkel and observe the reef, looking for trash, coral bleaching, whether coral was soft or hard, and whether fish were present.
Each of the field experiences included class time, discussion, journaling and questions that needed to be turned in. Day trips were also part of the experience.
“There’s not much down time,” she said. “I can’t lay out on the beach. I’m working. It’s not like spring break 2012.”
But it is fun.
“Australia is an interesting place,” Groomes said.
She has learned lessons that have proven useful in the classroom as well.
The program reinforces her use of the inquiry approach with her students — having them discover for themselves instead of being told the answer.
At first, her students are frustrated with her methods, but after a while, they get it, she said.
“When someone raises their hand to ask a question, I’ll ask them, ‘what do you think?’ ” she said. “After a while, if someone raises their hand, the other students will say, ‘don’t bother asking her, she’s not going to give you the answers.”
Groomes earned her Bachelor of Science in zoology from Kent State University in 1999 and her teaching certificate from Cleveland State University shortly thereafter. She began teaching in the Midview district in the fall of 2000.
She has been working on her master’s for three years and plans to finish in December.
“I would recommend this program to anyone,” she said. “You don’t necessarily have to be a science teacher.”
For more information about Project Dragonfly, visit http://gfp.muohio.edu/.
Contact Christina Jolliffe at 329-7155 or email@example.com.