Our Final Reflections: Remembrances of Costa Rica and Panamá for CRA 2019

The whole crew – CRA students, parents, teachers, and the scuba instructors who assisted with snorkeling and reef health surveys.

Last night, we spent our final evening in Costa Rica. We were at the same hotel we had spent our first night when we arrived from Los Angeles nine days ago. Daniel’s wife cooked a variety of meats (beef, sausage, and chicken) to go with zucchini, refried beans, rice, and a salad. Most of the group opted to eat on the patio overlooking the pool and San José in the Central Valley below. Afterward, we all met in the main living room of the home the seven girls were staying in that night to present a parting gift to our local guide Hillary and share our responses to la última Pregunta del Día.

There was a random drawing to determine the order people would respond. Miss Pancich created little numbered slips of paper. As a number was drawn, it correlated to the number, from 1 to 29, that our members had been assigned the first day of the trip. Each time our group assembled over the past nine days, we had counted off using this numbering system. It took the students a while to understand their numbers (in Español) and the correct order, but ultimately, we got it! So, as was fitting, we did one final count during our evening reflections. The list below is in the order the numbers were drawn during our final evening. The number after each person’s name was their ‘count-off number’ during the trip.

The Final Question: Looking back on your Central American experience, what is an event or observation you would like to make about one of your most memorable experiences?

Carson and his mom enjoy a relaxing moment in the shade during our afternoon on a beach after snorkeling all morning.

Carson (dos, #2) – My favorite part of the trip was when we were rafting. We were almost done. We had a long stretch of clear, like not rapids – and we raced this other boat and I really saw how competitive everybody else got – including my group. We all cheated a little bit [“I know that!” said Hillary in the room] Yah, Hillary was there; it was really fun. Yeah, we won, but only because we cheated – we pushed their boat with our oars!

Luna was the only one to order the typical Caribbean plate at this restaurant. Her smile tells the story!

Luna (dieciocho, #18) – My favorite part of the trip was on the really long zip-line at the very end of all the zip-lines and me and Maya were partners and we went out into the open area out of the trees and I just started screaming and Maya was laughing at me.


Matteo gives a thumbs up from the sea floor.

Matteo (cinco, #5) – My favorite part of the trip was when we were snorkeling off the coast of Panamá. I did a duck dive and I saw a shoal of Squid and I reached my arm out near one of them and they all shot away real quickly and they shot their ink at me!

Jacob tries to get a butterfly to come on his finger for a little closer inspection.

Jacob (seis, #6) – My favorite part of the trip was snorkeling and I liked to see the reef and the fish.

Hillary (Tour Guide – uno, #1) – Alright, my favorite activity was actually snorkeling. I’d never done it before (!?!) – no, never… and it was just like something that, you know – all the time that we see like forests, and animals, and biodiversity and landscapes… but we never get to see inside the water, right? To see what lives inside the water. All of the duck dives, the coral reefs, to see all of that that is right next to my country – it makes me feel really glad to be here.

Kelly (Mr. Elder, once, #11) – My favorite part was when we were on a walk in the rainforest and a bird almost hit Miss Pancich and it was having trouble flying and we found out it was a Knoll… the bird had a lizard in it’s mouth. And I guess in Montana, we see Robin’s eating worms and don’t think anything of it, but I guess I never thought a bird would eat a Lizard. And this bird was struggling for a bit. We watched it for 3-4 minutes just trying to get it in it’s beak and clamp down on it and the lizard was flipping around and trying to get away. It just blew me away – it was super fascinating. My camera was fritzing out – I didn’t even get a picture of it, but Miss Pancih got one. The bird was a Squirrel Kuko (?).

Afton mastered the art of paddling on the Pacuare River.

Afton (veintiuno, #21) – My favorite part was zip-lining. Being up there high in the trees and seeing all different views of like the trees and the river.

Natalya enjoys a meal during our adventure.

Natalya (veintiocho, #28) – It wasn’t my favorite part, but something I’ll remember. So, it was the first day in the airport, and everyone was really tired. Most people when they get tired just get tired, but I have a couple stages of being tired. My first stage is being sleepy and then my second stage I go crazy – I was like screaming and yelling everywhere. And them my third stage, I started crying… someone started talking to me and I was really emotional, so I just started crying.

Brody during a night-hike in the rainforest in the Sarapiqui region.

Brody (cuatro, #4) – My favorite part of the trip was when we were rafting. We were going into a section of class IV rapids, and the guide yelled “Get Down!” but I didn’t hear him. I was in the front of the boat, and Jackson jumped in the front of the boat and took the whole thing, so I couldn’t “Get Down!” in the boat. So, I was still sitting on the side and we went over a huge bump and Jackson grabbed my leg and I was hanging outside of the raft. We went through the rapid, and then he pulled me back into the boat! [Jackson said, “Well I wasn’t gonna fall out of that boat!” What about Brody, asked Miss Pancich? “Well, I was holding onto him,” was Jackson’s response.]

Reese gives a paddleboard a try.

Reece (doce, #12) – We were whitewater rafting right before the Pacuare Canyon with the bridge. We were going down and we went over this rock and then there was another rock right after that. We got stuck on the rock for at least five minutes and all the groups were going past us. And then another one just rammed into us and got us even more stuck. Somehow they got past us, and then we got unstuck, and then we get stuck even more on these rocks below us. And I could see Clement’s group zooming up the river to try and save us. And then our instructor finally hopped out of the boat in the rapids, and it was super-sketchy, and he finally pushed us out.

Smudges on Aidia’s face during our visit to the Family Farm.

Aidia (dieciseis, #16) – My favorite part was during the night hike. We were all at this really muddy part and we stopped there to look at a few things. And then Hillary told us all to turn off our lights and it was completely dark. Everyone was just standing there in the complete quiet and all you could here were the sounds of the rainforest and when you looked up you could see the silhouettes of the trees. It was really pretty.

Micah comes up to the surface near the boat.

Micah (veintidos, #22) – My favorite part was going to the family farm and learning about all the fruits. I thought it was really neat how a fruit is used to make chocolate. I didn’t know that. I also didn’t know about the whole ritual of how it is the drink of the Gods – I thought that was pretty cool.

Layla (veintitres, #23) – I think my favorite part was when we were in Panamá and we actually went for lunch and just to see that giant sea of it’s own that we could all just walk out for ever and ever in this crystal clear water and see those Cabanas in the water. It was nice, beautiful, and it was picturesque!

Barrett poses for a photo before his meal.

Barrett (trece, #13) – My favorite part of the trip was on the night hike when we saw at least three tree frogs and we turned off all of our lights except for one and we could see his red eyes. I got a picture, but I take horrible pictures! [The tree frog is the image often showing on this blog’s banner up top of the frog that Mr. Elder took on a prior trip]

Craig takes a break on the beach in the afternoon heat.

Craig (nueve, #9) – So, my favorite part was when we were rafting and so we were at this pond and there was a big stick in the way of the river. So, the dude (our guide) told me to duck down, and I did it a little bit too late and only half my body was in and my butt was sticking up and as we were going by, the stick hit my butt! [Hillary told us the guide had to push Craig down into the boat, but he still hit the branch. Kylie pointed out Craig was also the one who was peeing in the ocean as we looked at the Sloths and fell into the boat head-first.]


Henry leads the way, having walked across the bridge in the background where we left Costa Rica and now entering Panama.

Henry (tres, #3) – When we went to that National Park, I really liked the winding roads and all of the people – the little towns that were there and then we’d get to the valley and there were sheer rock walls with jungle growing on them… I thought it was really cool. I thought, “This would be a really cool place to live.”

Bill (veinticinco, #25) – My favorite part was when we were floating down the river and I was in the boat with Luna, Maya, Henry, and Zoe – and we got stock on a rock with another raft. It was kind of sketchy, and the instructor was saying “Get down!” “Get up!” “Get down!” – he was giving all sorts of commands. And it was really neat watching how fast everybody moved.

Zoe tries some chocolate (?) at the Family Farm.

Zoe (diecinueve, #19) – When we were rafting, we got stuck on the rock next to Reese’s boat. Our guide told us to get down, and so we got down, and water started flooding into our raft and Luna started screaming and then she freaked out and then she almost started crying… and it was really funny.

Jackson takes a break while snorkeling Bocas del Toro (Panama).

Jackson (siete, #7) – My favorite part was when we were in Puerto Viejo on our way to Panamá and Matteo, Amelia and I were at the breakfast table that morning before we went to see the ocean. I felt a bug on my neck, so I swiped it forward, and it was a little Lizard! He fell on my plate and he was eating my banana, and then he dropped in the grass and he left from there.

Maya tries some chocolate at the Family Farm.

Maya (diecisiete, #17) – I really liked the zip-lining, and how you were over everything below and what you could see above. You went really fast and you could control the speed. I really liked that.

Brandon getting off the plane on one of our legs. It was a long flight, but so worth it!

Brandon (veintisiete, #27) – My favorite part was probably going on the night hike and seeing and hearing all the different kinds of insects and bugs that were out there and I got a bunch of bug bites on my arms and legs and it didn’t feel good, but I saw a bunch of different animals that were creeping me out. I saw this Bullet Ant on my shoe and I kicked it off kind of on Reese and he started screaming. And then we went up… we saw this huge spider. He jumped in a hole, and we thought he was coming to get us.

Wynde (catorce, #14) – My greatest part of this trip that I will remember is that the people of Costa Rica have made a very conscious and intentional decision to buck against centuries of tradition and to change their attitudes from a dominance approach to where they live to one that is cooperative, respectful and conservatory. And they have done so with such success, that is actually thriving and driving their economy. And I think it is an amazing example that I have hope more will follow and I am thankful I was able to experience that in Costa Rica on this trip.

Delaney showing her excitement for the zip-lining adventure one afternoon.

Delaney (veinte, #20) – My favorite part was at lunch today on the subsistence farm. There was this little girl who didn’t speak any English and she was really cute. We were trying to communicate with her and ask her like how old she was, and what her name was and if she liked animals… it was much harder than we all thought it would be! Instead of asking how old she was, I asked her how many bathrooms! So, you know, that’ll stay with me. And the little girl was just laughing at me the whole time, so that was kind of funny.

Debbie (quince, #15) – One incident that I witnessed was as I was wandering through Bocas del Toro. I was walking down away from the tourist/business area by some of the homes. I saw two little boys, one about two and the other about four. And they were just two naked little boys, running around and having fun, and all of a sudden, an older brother came out and they got in this ditch and he started giving them a bath. I looked in the ditch and I thought, “I wonder what’s in that ditch?” It didn’t look very nice to me… but that wonderful little family was happy and the boys were giggling and they just didn’t give a rip!

Clement provides a strong right paddle up front as he and his group work their way through one of the rapids on the Pacuare River.

Clement (diez, #10) – My favorite part was the pier (Santa Barbara, California) because we could do whatever we want nobody could order us to go places, so that was fun. My favorite ride was that up and down thing and we tried to do our slow-motion videos. And we kind of lost Gage, and it was fun looking around for him and not finding him.

Gage on a boat en route to the reef for some snorkeling (Bocas del Toro, Panama).

Gage (veintiseis, #26) – This was definitely a part that will stay with me and give me a lot of ideas. When we were at the coffee plantation and they were showing us all the machines that ran just with water… I thought it was just the most ingenious and cool thing ever… seriously, I really like machines that don’t even need electricity – that use the power of water.

Dayan – (ocho, #8) – In the park in Alajuela (near San José), when we went up to the locals there and asked them some questions in their language and they talked to us, it was kind of funny because they would talk to us back and we didn’t know what they were saying… we were trying to figure out how to say coconut and the guy wouldn’t tell us – the guy just said “No Coconut.” [Henry told us he kept saying he didn’t want to buy – maybe he thought we were trying to sell Coconuts. Mr. Elder pointed out that we are actually in Alajuela, not San José, but that the valley below has 10 million people in it… which Hillary corrected him on, because there are only 6 million people in the country. She said about half the country’s population, 2-3 million, live here in the valley].

Dayan celebrates after our zip-lining adventure.

Paulette – (vienticuatro, #24) – I loved getting off the roads: snorkeling, zip-lining, and whitewater rafting. I really liked learning about the six types of coral from Patty while snorkeling on the reef. When we measured the colors of the coral, I found myself paying more attention to it. In the second reef we hit, there were some real multi-colored coral. The darkest coral is the healthiest, and after learning about it, I could tell that parts of the reef were healthier than others.

Amelia (treinta, #30) – I think my favorite things about trip were being able to snorkel and helping with the corals, being on the beautiful beach in Bastementos, seeing the dolphins and reading all the nice messages on the popsicle sticks!

Kylie (Miss Pancich, Veintinueve, #29) – I loved watching the guides and Christian, our bus driver, always seeing the things they wanted us to see. Watching Hillary and Christian working to get the Guava fruit out of the tree to share with the group after zip-lining was another high point for me.

For our favorite student event on the trip, both Miss Pancich and I agree. Jacob and Micah found us moments after the nightly room check – as they marched up, Jacob announced, “I really messed up – I broke a light in our room!” Honesty is always the best policy, and Jacob was taking responsibility. Turns out three boys had broken the light when a lapse of collective reasoning led to a pillow fight that resulted in the broken fixture.

All in all, an excellent adventure in Central America was had by all. Deeper friendships were formed, and some new friendships were made. Lessons were learned and new sights and sounds were discovered. After ten days away from home, we are confident most of our travelers are ready to be back in their own homes. We are in Los Angeles now, and if all goes well, will find our way to Bozeman just before midnight tonight. At that point, many families will be reunited. Some will overnight in Bozeman, while others plan to make it back to Helena, ending the trip a few hours earlier than the rest. Regardless of our final itineraries, though, it is safe to say all had an experience that won’t soon, if ever, forget. Thanks to Costa Rica and Panamá from all of us.

Pura Vida!


Snorkeling in the Caribbean – Bocas del Toro

Over the past few days, we have had the opportunity to spend many hours snorkeling around the coral reefs in Bocas del Toro (Panama). Today we trekked back across the border (which went much smoother than the way down). There was a lot less apprehension among the group, as we were all veterans of the crossing and understood what the emigration/immigration process would look like in reverse.

We are now working our way up the National highway that is once again packed with semis hauling Banana’s and other goods as was described in an earlier blog post. We are en route to the Sarapiquí Rainforest Region of Costa Rica, the final area we will explore before returning to San José Sunday evening. We saw a couple Sloths in a Cahuita National Park just before lunch. While both the Chicken and Rice and the Beans and Rice options were favorites, and while a number of us opted for a Hamburger with fries (including our bus driver Christian, who told some of the group he eats Beans and Rice three times a day every day and this opportunity was extra special for him), Luna was the only one to order the Casado con Carne.

Luna Casado con Carne

Luna with her Casado con Carne.

This meal always has the meat (chicken pieces or breasts, fish, pork chops, or beef) chopped potatoes in a sauce, rice, beans, salad, and sometimes plantains. When she got her plate, many of us were second-guessing our orders. I told the group I would be ordering Casado con Carne if it is an option on the remainder of our experience.

After eating, we had a brief ceremony to thank one of our guides, Amelia, who would be leaving us later in the afternoon to join another group coming to visit. Each member of our group had written a brief ‘Thank You’ to Amelia on a colored popsicle stick, and we gave her an envelope with the sticks and a tip in appreciation for all she had done. Students wrote notes on popsicle sticks like Henry’s, “Thank You so much for showing us around. I’ll remember this trip for the rest of my life.”

Thank You Amelia 2019

A sampling of the popsicle sticks we gave to Amelia as part of her thank you gift.

Of course no day would be complete without La Pregunta del Día; so, The Question:

Over the past few days in Bocas del Toro, we experienced snorkeling and Caribbean culture. What have you learned about snorkeling, the reef, or about life in general while spending time in the Caribbean? How might this experience apply to your life when you return to Montana?

Afton – Wear sunscreen. That is what I learned. You have to apply it a lot of times. Being sunburned is no fun. Even in Montana, I think I will still wear sunscreen when I return.

Aidia – I learned how much climate change is affecting the ocean and the coral reefs and everything. I was obviously aware of climate change and everything, but after seeing the reefs for myself, I’m definitely going to share with others the importance of addressing climate change. That is what I will do when back in Montana.

Barrett – I learned that the water was a lot warmer and clearer than it is in Montana. If I ever think the water is too cold when I’m back in Montana, I can just move to the Caribbean!

Brandon – I learned that the water isn’t good to drink. It is a lot warmer, and that there are way more colorful fish. And I learned not to touch Sea Urchins, the hard way. I’ve also learned that there are jellyfish cells that can sting. Finally, I learned that sometimes things go a lot better when I try to be a part of the group instead of always pushing limits to get noticed and yelled at by the adults.

Brody – I thought that a coral reef was healthier if it was brighter, but it actually is healthier the darker it is because it has to have more algae in it and that makes it darker. The algae helps the coral get oxygen. When the ocean gets polluted, the algae can’t grow and the reef starts to die.

Carson – Something I learned was that the coral reefs are much more affected by pH than I thought. I thought coral was like a tree – like a plant, but it’s an animal. Also, I learned the reef uses algae for energy and stuff with the process of photosynthesis. I will appreciate how clean my house is upon return.

Clement – I learned that they don’t use cars that much – they use more boats. I saw a lot more shops than I’m used to, and I saw a lot of people who are trying to make a living, but don’t have much. When I’m back in Montana, this will affect my life because I’ve found we should all appreciate what we’ve got because we’ve got a beautiful place to live and have a higher standard of living. Even though they don’t have a lot, they were still happy, and we should be too.

Craig – I learned that there is coral in the ocean like Fire Coral that can hurt you if you touch it. A number of our group got cut by this coral and they said it hurt pretty bad (Jacob said, “It cut pretty bad – I probably shouldn’t have touched that.”).

Dayan – One thing I learned is that it is a lot hotter over here and it’s way easier to get sunburned – like really bad sunburn. When I return to Montana, I might take somebody with me when I go into the water because I learned the importance of having a buddy in the water.

Delaney – One thing I learned was how to Duck Dive, and that was cool. It was difficult to go vertically down. You want to go horizontally so you can see all the fish, but you need to dive straight down and you’ll see more – how to do a proper Duck Dive, I guess. Back home, I’ll put on sunscreen even when in water. I always thought the water protected you from the sun, but now I know that isn’t true – it intensifies the rays.

Gage – No response.

Henry – I learned that many people use their boats as mainly their job. Their whole economy is based upon water and boats. Like Roberto, who lived in a shack – the only income he had was shuttling people around in his boat. When back home, I’ll appreciate how easy it is going to be for me to get a job when I turn 15.

Jacob – I learned that the reefs aren’t very well protected. Some of the bigger name reefs are protected, but the littler/lesser known reefs are dying because of pollution and temperature changes. Like Henry said, the islands don’t have that many jobs. Tourists are their big income. When I am legal working age, I’ll appreciate how easy it is to get a job and have a house. I’ll appreciate non-polluted waters and having drinking water, as well.

Jackson – The plumbing is whack. It’s crazy, like the way you can’t flush toilet paper down the toilet. I’m not gonna lie, I had to use a spoon to get some toilet paper our once because I threw it in the toilet out of habit. Also, I was wearing my Bocas hat, and many people would just look at me and say, “BOCAS!” The people here are very passionate sports fans. The kids were playing soccer at night in the street behind our hotel for hours – they were using large plastic milk crates on their side as goals. They are just passionate.

Luna – I like how nobody is on their phones here. I feel kind of inspired by that and I am going to try to be on my phone less when I go back to Montana. You miss out on time with your family or being outside when you are on your phone.

Matteo – I learned that the health of the reef can actually control the oxygen levels in the atmosphere. We really need to cut down on pollution if we want to have healthy, non-toxic air to breathe on our planet. Something I’ll take back to Montana is an appreciation for clean streets and clean water. I also want to try to conserve more – like using less water and plastics because it can really affect the world we live in.

Maya – A lot of people rely on the ocean for how they live. The Caribbean people need a healthy ocean to continue living as they have. In Helena, we think of the ocean as somewhere to go on vacation, but for many, I learned it is so much more.

Micah – I learned that you need to listen to your parents when they say, “Sunscreen isn’t a joke when you get closer to the equator,” because these blisters – man! Being a part of the marine research was a contribution to the cause. Even though we didn’t do much, the plots we surveyed and the data we recorded will help ensure the future of that reef.

Natalya – I didn’t know that there was salt in the ocean. I learned that the water is really salty. You can get burned a lot easier in Central America than at home. The water here is a lot bluer as well. I’ll bring back what I learned in that we can change the environment by being aware of what we are doing.

Reece – I learned that Sand Dollars grow vertical to the ground and that they are related to the Star Fish. I also learned that the Caribbean Islands rely on water for transportation, and that they need rain to have drinking water. Back home, I am reminded we are more careless with our water than they are here.

Zoe – I learned that you should wear sunscreen. You can get burnt easily in the water, it makes it hard to sleep, and then you get grumpy. It feels like somebody is rubbing sandpaper on my skin right now and it hurts. I’m going to listen to my mom when back in Montana and wear sunscreen!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We checked into the Selva Verde Lodge last night, had an excellent meal, and 1/2 our group got to go on a “Night Hike” in the Sarapiquí Rainforest. The other half will go tonight, and those excursions will be the subject of a future post. We’re off to the Rainforest this morning and then going to zip-line in the afternoon! Check back soon to see how those activities are going!

Crossing the Border and Experiencing Snorkeling Off Bocas del Toro, Panamá

It was to be a couple hour drive after our whitewater rafting adventure to our hotel along the coast of Costa Rica near Panamá, but that was before we hit the traffic along the route. We learned that Banana trees are like Pineapples in that they are a “one shot wonder” (thanks for the verbiage, Paulette)! In other words, once the clump of bananas is harvested, the tree is cut down and another one is planted. Each tree only produces one set of the fruit and it is done.

Well, southeast Costa Rica is a Banana producing region. We passed huge barbed wire lots larger than football fields filled with refrigerated semi-truck/train shipping containers stacked 3-6 high. Then these containers, loaded with Bananas (we went by the Chaquita, Del Monte, and Dole plants) were hauled to the ports by tractor-trailer trucks. So, on that two-lane road, we did stop and go traffic for almost two hours to go the last 40 miles to our town of Puerto Viego. There were a ton of trucks clogging the road, along with cars, motorcycles, school busses, and even an ambulance (not going any faster than we were). The couple-hour long drive wound up taking over three, but we finally made it to the hotel.

Upon arrival at the Cariblue Resort in Puerto Viejo, our students loved discovering their cabanas as they wound their way through the dense vegetation meandering out into the darkness from the central lobby. There wasn’t time to delay, as we reloaded the bus and went downtown (a couple kilometers away) to a small restaurant called, Riquísimo. By the time our group took seats, there weren’t any tables left in the small restaurant. There was a small island with stools between our open-air tables and the bustling road of the small surfing town. In the end, many students said the Caribbean fare was the best meal of the trip thus far. Some swam in one of the pools, while many opted to connect to the Wi-Fi and check in with friends and parents.

The next morning, many of the students opted for fresh pancakes with a strawberry syrup to accompany their scrambled eggs over the standard beans and rice. Mr. Elder also found the yogurt with granola and a fresh banana was really good! Most everybody went to the beach: the 8am shift got to go swimming out in the surf, and the 8:30 crew just checked things out along the beach. The sun was intense, giving us a glimpse of the power of the rays yet to come when we hit the ocean waters in Panamá. We came back, loaded the bus, and just like that – we were off to Panamá!

Border Cota Rica Panama 01

Waiting in the hot sun to go through the Emigration check-point as we left Costa Rica.

We pulled up, got out with only our passports, and found ourselves in a long line of people waiting to emigrate from Costa Rica. We knew it was coming, but about 45 minutes in the hot sun with no shade was intense! Some had umbrellas and all had sunscreen, but it was a hot wait for sure.

Border Cota Rica Panama 05

Once done with the first line, we hit the second, waiting to immigrate into Panamá.

When done, we walked back over to the bus, unloaded our luggage, and walked across a bridge over the Sixaola River. It was interesting to be walking with the other people, as our bus was not allowed to cross the border. On the other side, we put our luggage in a new bus (more on that soon), and found our way to the immigration line a few hundred yards away. While the line area was in the shade, it was still pretty hot while we waited.

The adults in our group had to get a photo taken and provide both left and right hand and thumb prints. Fortunately, our students just had their passports run through and then got their stamps. Amelia and I went on a quest to find some water for the group, but none of the four stores at the border had large containers. Miss Pancich ultimately wound up buying a couple of the largest bottles we could find and I got about eight sun-block bottles! Back on the bus…

Speaking of our bus, it was a 1970s-era luxury cruiser that had come form Korea after it completed its home-country service (we knew this because every sign on the bus (ie., Emergency Exit) had the message in Korean as well). Our driver, who may have been over three hundred pounds, had a couple assistants. One stood on the stairs by the door and the other used an upside down 5-gallon bucket as a stool right next to the driver himself. They were proud of their bus, a red 70s cruiser that had purple embroidered curtains with gold stitching. The last couple rows were a favorite, as they had steps up and were like elevated theatre seating, giving the lucky occupants views all the way to the front of the bus!

Off we went, rumbling down the roads through Panamá, finding our way to the port city of Almirante. This was an excellent experience for our students, as many people were crammed in a small waiting area for the taxi. We were fortunate, as Enrique (one of the assistants on our bus) led us through the throng and right out to the boat dock. We loaded on two boats and within minutes, had donned lifejackets and were off.

When we arrived, we met Jeannette, our snorkeling guide, and she took us for a meal. Everyone was really hungry, and the Tuna Steak with Rice and the Chicken and Potatoes were both a real hit. Other than that, you are now up to date minus they snorkeling… leading us to the next Pregunta del Día.

La Pregunta del Día: Five years from now, what will stick in your mind about your snorkeling experience – such as something you saw or did?

Afton – “I liked looking at the different kinds of coral and seeing what’s down there. I saw a lot of different kinds of fish.”

Aidia – “I thought I got stung by a Jellyfish, but I may have touched the Coral.”

Barret – “I’ll remember collecting data and waving my hand at the little worms that have the stringy things outside of them. When I waived my hand, they would think I was a fish and hide back in their tube.”

Brandon – “I will remember being stung by Jellyfish cells.”

Brody – “Learning about how much the coral affects us (humans) and how much the coral is affecting global warming with the algae.”

Carson – “I thought that the water was surprisingly clear and there were a lot more fish than I thought there would be – I was surprised by all the colors.”

Clement – “It was really pretty, because the water was really clear and there was a lot of fish life. I’d never seen one of those worm things before. I’ll definitely remember them. I saw that, I did that, and it was fun!”

Craig – “We collected all sorts of data and saw a lot of fish. It was interesting to see all the things in the water when you looked within a meter of the rope line we laid on the reef floor.”

Dayan – “There was all sorts of algae and stuff, but out a little farther, I dove down, my ears popped as I went down, and I saw this yellow rock with holes in it. It reminded me of Sponge-Bob!”

Delaney – “I saw an Eel sticking out of a rock – it sat there frozen staring up at us, hidden in the Coral.”

Gage – “I will remember that if a fish brushed up against my leg, or even if it’s like a leaf, it freaks me out.”

Henry – “I’ll remember how we couldn’t find the coral reef after we laid the rope down and put the plotting square on it. I found a cool piece of coral, but it wasn’t inside the square like it was supposed to be.”

Jacob – “I’ll remember the little worms that we could disturb the water near and they would disappear.”

Jackson – “The fish were really close – they’d swim by about an inch from their legs.”

Luna – “There was one really big section of coral with a lot of fish in it, and my favorite fish was a black one that had neon-blue poka-dots!”

Matteo – “I will remember touching a sea cucumber. I expected it to be soft and squishy, but in reality it was hard like a rock and had hair on it.”

Maya – “A lot of the time, my whole body would sting because of the Jellyfish particles in the water.”

Micah – “What will stick in my mind the most is swallowing so much salt-water!”

Natalya – “The saltiness will stay in my mind forever. The saltwater was on my teeth and made it hard to chew things.”

Reese – “Seeing a trumpet fish with its mouth and tail like the end of the trumpet where the sound comes out… and diving down and seeing all the see urchins.”

Zoe – “I’ll remember the water was turquoise.”

Tomorrow (Thursday, 3/28), we will spend the morning collecting data on the reef’s health once again and find our way to a beach in a Panamanian National Park for the afternoon! Stay tuned for the next post about our C.R. Anderson group experience in Central America.

Rafting the Pacaure River, Animal Sitings, and A Few Other Random Thoughts

We began our day at the Cariblue Hotel in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. A group of students headed at an early breakfast and headed across the road to the beach. The wave/s were impressive, and there was a number of surfers bobbing out in the water waiting for a big wave.


Afton and Brandon take in the walls of the Pacuare Canyon after a class IV set of rapids. We’ll have to get some action photos from the whitewater sections posted soon!


“Muy Bonita,” “Crazy,” “Breath-taking,” “Intense” –

These are a few of the words CRA students used to describe their rafting adventure on the Pacuare River. When asked for three words, here are the responses:

Afton – Exciting, funny, and beautiful!

Aidia – Adventurous, crazy, and funny!

Barret – Exhilarating, fun, and amazing!

Brandon – Bumpy, wet, and awesome!

Brody – No response.

Carson – Exhilarating, relaxing, and labor-intensive!

Clement – Really fun, wet, and an activity where we had to pay attention a lot.

Craig – Exciting, beautiful scenery, and relaxing.

Dayan – Exciting, calming, and focus-to-avoid-sinking.

Delaney – Exuberant, thrilling, and fun!

Gage – Fun, beautiful-scenery, and quite-tiring.

Henry – No response.

Jacob – Nerve racking, exciting, and blood pumping!

Jackson – Adrenaline, fun, and kind of scary!

Luna – Kind-of-Scary, gorgeous-surroundings, and amazing!

Matteo – Muy bonita, exciting, and tiring.

Maya – Vibrant, breathtaking, and insane!

Micah – Euphoric, wonderful, and new.

Natalya – Fascinating, refreshing, and muscle-usage!

Reece – Intense, extraordinary, and beautiful.

Zoe – Super Duper Cool!

We’ve also seen a number of animals during our brief time in Costa Rica. Here’s a list the students came up with when asked what we’d observed:

The brilliant blue butterflies, a black vulture, Geckos, Capybara (largest rodent on Earth), orange crabs, sloths, Toucans and the Oro Bendura (Oriole-Family of birds that builds the hanging nests), a worm-like leach in the shower, Poisoned Dart and Neon Green, as well as Teal Frogs, a Howler Monkey, and huge spiders!

Sloth on Power Line

A Sloth navigates a power line in the town of Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica… and he was moving faster than any group member who had seen Sloths before had moved!

Some of the group had some other random thoughts they wanted to share about our brief experience in Costa Rica:

Brandon – “Reece and I got scared by a Chupacabra.”

Clement – “It is very hot here, but it’s very beautiful. It’s very different because we’re used to seeing pine trees, but it’s a whole new world here.” 1. Really fun, wet, and an activity where we had to pay attention a lot.

Dayan – “The food is way better than what we have at home – yummier and healthier.”

Delaney – “I didn’t think the Sloth we saw last night was real at first.”

Gage – “This morning, I saw a long line of ants carrying leaves and stuff.”

Henry – “I saw a gross leach in the shower last night.”

Jacob – “You can sunburn very easily in Costa Rica! And the tropical fruits here are much better than in the States. Not only that, but Craig and I locked ourselves out of our bungalow this morning.”

Jackson – “A gecko dive bombed me at breakfast – he landed on my face!”

Luna – “On the rafting trip, our boat got caught and it started flooding. It was really fun, though.”

Matteo – “When I woke up and walked out of my bungalow this morning, there was a little Neon Green Tree Frog with black spots – and there was a Gecko chasing it.”

Maya – “When we crossed the border about noon, there were school children all around, and they all had uniforms on.”

Micah – “Costa Rica is definitely a place to go!”

Reece – “Dinner last night was a mix of flavors I haven’t tried before. It was super-good. They were the best refried beans we had – they were light, not heavy.”

Coming soon on this blog: CRA Crosses into Panama and tries their luck at snorkeling!

Day #1 in Costa Rica

After just over 36 hours of travel, it was great to get some well deserved sleep in San Jose!

We began the morning with a city tour, walking through the main plaza, witnessing a service in the Catholic Church (the Official Religion is Roman Catholic, per the country’s Constitution – over 75% of the population identify as Catholic)


The Catholic Church on the Plaza in downtown Alejuela.

and the hundreds of people just sitting on benches and relaxing with their Sunday morning.

We also got to tour a coffee plantation that processes the beans without electricity or fuel to run things – it is all powered by water on the property.


Jacob, with the benefit of time and patience, was able to get one of the butterflies to ‘hang out’ on his finger for a bit.

Students enjoyed the butterfly sanctuary a lot, and many bought (spoiler alert for some parents following this blog) some coffee for family members. These two activities and our journey down will be the focus of our “Question of the Day,” or the Pregunta del Día, that comes at the bottom of this post.

Our group stayed at two adjacent properties in Alajuela our first night in Costa Rica, both with beautiful views of the San José Valley, the Buena Vista and Casa Cielo Grande. We went to bed at 9:00 p.m. because we had to get rolling early in the morning. We knew we had a big day: driving for a few hours to the Picuare River for about 4 hours of whitewater rafting. That adventure, along with our crossing into Panama later today, will be the focus of our next blog post. Our guides this year (yes, we have two!), are Amelia and Hillary. They are doing an excellent job of keeping our large group (28 people) on track.

Buena Vista View

Some of the CRA students enjoy the pool late in the afternoon during our first day in Costa Rica. The pool overlooks the San José Valley, and was a refreshing way to end the marathon travel day we had just completed.

The students are forming stronger bonds of friendship, and random pairings like yesterday’s rafting excursion are helping everyone get to know each other while working as a team. And work we did, as the Picaure delivered on class II, III, and a few level IV rapids. And, with that, we’ll consider our first:

Pregunta del Día #2: At this point, you’ve had just over 24 hours in this country. What have you noticed or observed about Costa Rica or the Costa Rican people?

Afton – “The houses here are a lot brighter colors.”

Aidia – “I’m surprised by how the houses have a lot of fences and barbed wire.”

Barret – “It’s really warm all the time, and the rain isn’t cold. And the leaves on the trees are much bigger.”

Brandon – “There are more trees – lots of vegetation. And a lot of people don’t speak English!”

Brody – “Lots of razor wire and stuff on houses. There are lot of gates and stuff.”

Carson – “The rice and beans in Costa Rica are way better than when we have them in the states!”

Clement – “I really like Costa Rica because… I’m in the rainforest.”

Craig – “We were at the fountain trying to talk to people in Spanish. There were about 30 pigeons around this kid and he had one in his bare hands! He had i’s neck, almost like choking it. And his Mom didn’t seem to care – she was like, ‘Good Job, Sweetie!’”

Dayan – “Talking to people in the park was fun. We were talking to a man and we wanted to know how to say coconut, but we couldn’t get our point across.”

Delaney – “The people here all really like soccer.”

Gage – “There are a lot of birds here… you can hear them every morning.”

Henry – “The driving is aggressive. When you’re driving down a road, cars honk when they meet others to decide who is going to go – it is just really aggressive. The coffee is also really good!”

Jacob – “It is very humid. People here are really nice. They stare at us because we’re foreigners, but they are friendly when we start talking to them.”

Jackson – “Everybody loves soccer. One lady get saying ‘leagua’ and we figured out she was speaking of soccer with a kicking motion.”

Luna – “I was surprised by the butterfly garden. There were a lot of them – hundreds! I thought it was really cool.”

Matteo – “The town didn’t look anything like I thought it would. People worry a lot about security here, I guess. The streets are narrow. They know how to use their space wisely.”

Maya – “I like how in town, nobody is really on their phone that much. When we walked around on Sunday, people were just hanging out and not on their phones.”

Micah – “Locals here are really nice, especially if you approach and try to talk to them in Spanish.”

Natalya – “In Helena, most people are at home on their phones. When we went to the plaza, everyone was socializing – there were a lot of people!”

Reece – “It’s interesting to see a whole bunch of plants and trees – and how everything is green! It’s cool to see all sorts of different fruits growing here, everywhere. We don’t see that in the US.”

Zoe – “Things here are super-colorful; I’ve seen houses that are neon-blue and others that are pink.”

Some of the students headed to the beach this Tuesday morning, while others are lounging at the hotel with a leisurely breakfast before we head for the Panamanian border… stay tuned as the adventure continues for these young people!


CRA to Central America 2019 – Here We Go!

We started in Belgrade, Montana the morning of Saturday, March 23. Turns out that there is a direct flight from this airport to Los Angeles, California! Twenty-eight travelers from C.R. Anderson Middle School in Helena, MT are heading to Costa Rica and Panama for a Spring Break International Experience!

Our first question was asked after we got back to the airport in Los Angeles waiting to board the plane to San José, Costa Rica. We arrived in LA early this afternoon. We took the bus to the Santa Monica Pier, where our travelers were able to sample the rides along the Pacific Ocean. The first question and responses follow:

What was the best part of our first day together – in Bozeman, on the plane, or here in the Los Angeles area?

Afton – “I liked the Pier because I got to be with different friends – I guess I liked the roller coaster.”

Aidia – “Bozeman was fun… we all got together, and, we were like, OK, I guess we’re doing this!”

Barret – “Going on the roller coaster and stuff. Losing Gage wasn’t that fun, BUT…”

Brandon – “The Sea Dragon went up and down and made my tummy feel weird.”

Brody – Seeing LA – the different people, a different area.”

Carson – “It was freeing to be with a group of friends and just run around a bit [on the Pier], rather than just being stuck in an airport.”

Clement – “I liked that five of us got to be on our own, being free – we repeated the up and down ride like 20 times – it was awesome!”

Craig – “Probably buying our hats – that was pretty good.”

Dayan – “Going to LA and getting to ride the bumper cars with all my friends!”

Delaney – “The pier was fun. I got to hang out with my friends for the afternoon in a different state.”

Gage – “Riding on the rides at the pier was really fun! I liked the Pacific Plunge – the one that takes you up and drops you.”

Henry – “Just going and hanging out with your friends – having free time.”

Jacob – “The pier. Lots of good food and… lots of people in your surroundings. The rides were fun.”

Jackson – “Watching the seagulls fight over a McDonald’s Bag.”

Luna – “The Tea Cup ride – but they weren’t tea cups, they were Sharks!”

Matteo – “Seeing how different people live in LA, even though it is the same country – it was so busy, and the traffic.”

Maya – “Dip and Dots on the Santa Monica Pier – we were outside and not in the airport!”

Micah – “The Ferris Wheel and the sites at the Pier. I think it is crazy that I’m able to be on this trip.”

Natalya – “I liked the bus ride to the pier because we got to talk, and it was fun!”

Reece – “Um… walking over to the bus stop. Me, Barrett, Gage, Clement, and

Barrett going on rides together!”

Zoe – “Driving to Bozeman with Luna and Maya!”

Mr. Elder has a quick meeting with the travelers after all have cleared TSA and are at the gate. We beat the plane to our gate! Students here were saying their names and one of their favorite movies they’ve ever seen. This looks to be a fun group, for sure!



Reflecting Upon My Experience as Montana’s 2017 Teacher of the Year

To represent the professional educators of our state as the 2017 Montana Teacher of the Year; an overwhelming charge. I was humbled to try to do so. I think I gave it my best. Representing all involved with Montana’s teaching, from the earliest elementary level teachers all the way through the middle and high school grades – is daunting; all the more so trying to represent the vast majority of teachers in Montana who are in very rural districts. I taught almost a decade in Class A Lewistown at Fergus High before moving to the middle school level when I came to Helena. I have visited friends who teach in very rural schools; schools like Highwood, Hayes-Lodgepole, and Opheim. Both my grandmother and my mother taught in one room school houses (grandma in Ismay, and mom in Grizzly Bluff (CA)), but there are 68 such facilities remaining in our state. We are so rural. To represent all of these professional educators as one person – that is monumental undertaking.

The bottom line, though, is that we educators in Montana are trusted with the young people’s development, academic and social, in communities throughout this state. We give our all to help ensure that the next generation will be capable of contributing as productive members of our society. We try new ideas. We reflect upon what goes well and what needs adjusting. We strive to educate ALL of our students. Sometimes we do something in the classroom and it fails. We then come back the next day with the same enthusiasm we had the first time around and try something else.

We are passionate and we have power as teacher-leaders in our state.

On October 19, 2017, I had the opportunity to share my experience and reflect upon this past year as the 2017 Montana Teacher of the Year. I thought my Keynote at the statewide assessment conference last January was the hardest speech I’d ever had to write. But then, I spent hours on a speech for as a Keynote at a regional MEA-MFT union training in Great Falls. That was the hardest speech I ever wrote. And then came the honor of doing a Keynote at the Pinning Ceremony for the education graduates at Salish Kootenai Tribal College last spring. That was a daunting challenge. All of these were eclipsed by this one though – my Keynote at the 2018 Teacher of the Year Celebration for Melissa Romano.

I may add more to this reflection in the coming days, but for now, I wanted to share my speech and the accompanying slideshow with those who may be interested but were unable to attend.

Thank you for checking it out – the speech is 25 minutes long.

Motion in the video is blurry; it was an f-stop issue… not to fear, the slides from the slideshow look just fine!

#CCSSO – The Council of Chief State School Officers
#NTOY18 #NTOY17 #keldermt17 #MTtoy2017 #MTteachersInAction
#GlobalTravelAlliance #Eftours


4 Minute Presentation Challenge – NEAF Global Learning Fellows Workshop 2018

In 30 minutes, with a hypothetical budget of US $10 million, we were provided the following information for this workshop. Our group’s goal is to better the state of education given the following UNESCO statistics.

As a group, we decided to focus on the 9 million young people denied the right to a primary education.

According to UNESCO, equity can be affected by three primary factors:

  1. Sex
  2. Location
  3. Wealth

We then brainstormed about all sorts of things and… came up with our best idea for the $10 million budget allotted to us.

Open an Outreach Program as an NGO

  • Promotes the importance of having children in the schools.
  • An additional year of schooling could increase earnings by 10%, and average annual GDP by 0.37%.
  • Outreach office can issue a 3-year voucher
    • Initial cash payment for sending your child to school.
    • Additional compensation for each successive year.
    • At the end of the 3-year term, a bonus could be paid following an ‘exit interview.’
  • BUDGET: $10 million
    • Hire 3 staff in the outreach office (Budget $150,000)
    • Travel, International ($35,000)
    • Travel, Domestic In-Country ($10,000)
    • Printing and Publications (5,000)
    • Family Vouchers (Ave. cost per UNESCO of funding a child’s education for one year is less than $150).
      • $150*3 = $450 per child for a 3-yr. voucher ($150 for exit interview).

Fund over 13,000 students to attend attend school – climbing toward equity in education!

The Equity Team (from L to R): Christa Wallace (Tulsa, OK – G&T teacher), Kelly Elder (Helena, MT – 6th Grade Geography), Laura West (Hot Springs, AR – G&T and 5th Grade American History), Mary Eldredge-Sandbo (Des Lacs, ND – Secondary Biology), Emily Robinson (Atlanta, GA – Secondary English)

2018 NEA Foundation Global Learning Fellowship

Before coming to Washington DC in October of 2017 for the Global Learning Fellows Workshop, I was asked to do some homework. I needed to ask a group of students the following question:

Do you think it’s important to learn about and understand different cultures? Why or why not?

I asked my 6th graders the question and had them write their responses on sticky notes. When the bell rang, the students left their notes on the whiteboard. Some of those responses are posted here.

As a 6th grade geography teacher, one of my highest priorities is to provide my students exposure to their outer world and kindle a flame and desire to yearn for more understanding of others’ perspectives on our planet.

Because of this, I opted to interview a few of my former students who are 7th graders this year. A low-quality copy of that video is posted here:

[Video to be loaded when the author figures out which format can be uploaded and will work on this site!]

Among my 6th graders, here were a few Post-It notes that indicate the majority of my students’ attitudes. The prompt they were responding to, once again:

Do you think it’s important to learn about and understand different cultures? Why or why not?



Representing Montana’s Students and Educators In Our Nation’s Capital!

The sculpture of President Lincoln as he sits looking over the National Mall in Washington D.C. This is a part of the Lincoln Memorial (4/24/2017).

BiCEP Team: Yesterday I flew into Washington D.C. for a week of training and meetings as the 2017 Montana Teacher of the Year. Once again, I find myself being asked to step to the plate for our state’s State of Education, for our students, for the professional educators I work with, and for the people of our state. Remember the lesson Henry and his group taught us a few weeks ago when the environmentalist was absent and not at his commission’s urban sprawl planning meeting. He and his group didn’t care about the environment, because the environmentalist wasn’t at the meeting. This week, I am taking a seat at the table!

There are a number of units and lessons I do with my students each year that are great fun, but I really love the one you’ll be doing this week. Bittersweet, this adventure that pulls me away from you is, that’s for sure.
During the unit, you’ll be studying Mexico City. Mexico City is much like Washington D.C. where I am. Both are federal districts, meaning that they are national capitals that stand on their own. They are not a part of any state (both the USA and Mexico have states, another similarity). After learning your Geoterms for the chapter, you’re going to get in a virtual taxi cab and go to four different neighborhoods of Mexico City. In each neighborhood, you will hear an interview from one of the people who lives there. Listen carefully, and write all the data you gather from the interview into your notes. After each interview, you’ll match the data you collected with maps of the area to figure out which neighborhood your person lives in.  This is an awesome unit I hate to miss, but I hope you know that I am working with the teachers I’m with to help improve our education system.

A sign on the lawn the day after the March for Science – a protest held on Earth Day by people wanting the new President to spend more money on science and research.

I started my day with a run this morning, class. I’m not a fan of running, but Washington D.C. is an amazing place to run. There are memorials to Americans who gave their lives  defending our freedoms, monuments to our greatest leaders and to change like the civil rights movement. The President’s home, the White House, is just off the Mall as well. With every step, my mind races as I take in the meaning of the sacred spaces around me.


As I run, everywhere I look brings to mind stories of the nation I love. Patriotism is everywhere – hundreds of flags blowing in the breeze. Reminders like the one I read this morning in the Lincoln Memorial (above), remind us that we American’s have an obligation to ensure that our government is a government of our own doing to continue its existence. These are the thoughts in my mind as I begin my week in Washington D.C.
I will be meeting with a number of people, both those who help form policy and policy-makers themselves, this week. I will be telling stories of our successes in the schools, of the gains we are making in developing critical thinking and communication skills within our rooms, and of your increased global awareness. I will work to make our schools better for not just me and you, but for all teachers and students in Montana.
So, students, please know that I am trusting Mr. Dudek to dive into the Mexico City Unit with you. He is an excellent guest teacher. I just received an Email from him, and I know he is excited to guide your investigation into the ideas surrounding Spatial Inequality this week (that will be your first Geoterm)! Give it your best in class, check back to this blog for possible updates throughout the week so you can join me (virtually) on my journey, and I look forward to seeing you on Monday, May 1.
Best of Luck, Class!  – Mr. Elder
#CCSSO #MrE2DC #MTtoy2017