This article originally appeared at SouthCoastToday.com
NEW BEDFORD — While many teachers were preparing this year’s curriculum at home this summer, Alisia Cabral was stargazing at the summit of Mauna Kea and hiking through active volcanoes to prepare presentations for her students.
The Alma del Mar sixth grade science teacher, now in her fourth year of teaching, submitted her proposal to the Almazing Fund and was approved to take a trip to Hawaii to expand her astronomy and geology curriculum.
“It’s something I never thought would be attainable,” Cabral said.
Cabral is originally from New Bedford, and growing up and attending school in the city, she said it sometimes feels like traveling to places like Hawaii is something that might never happen.
Alma del Mar’s Almazing Fund has allowed teachers to take their curriculum outside of the box. The Almazing Fund is a donor-driven effort that supports teachers to build their own content knowledge through enriching experiences and activities, according to Director of Development Becca Kurie. Any teacher at Alma may write a grant and proposal to the fund with grants awarded on an annual basis.
In preparation for her proposal, Cabral had a set of standards for her curriculum and planned an itinerary of the best locations to expand her knowledge. She said her favorite unit focuses on the solar system, galaxy and universe, so she researched the best places in the world for astronomical viewing. Based on her findings, Hilo, Hawaii, also known as Big Island, had the best views of the galaxy at night, so she created an entire budget off the destination.
Mauna Kea among tallest mountains
Contrary to popular belief, Mount Everest isn’t the tallest mountain in the world, but it is the tallest above sea level at 29,035 feet. From base below sea level to summit, however, Mauna Kea stands tall at a whopping 33,500 feet. Cabral was able to stargaze on this mountain.
“It has a thin atmosphere, light pollution, and creates an amazing opportunity to witness the Milky Way with the naked eye,” Cabral said.
With all this in mind, Cabral wrote up her proposal, submitted it, and was alerted in late February 2020 that she was one of three teachers at Alma chosen for the grant. However, with COVID-19 and travel restrictions, the opportunity was postponed for one year. By the time it was safe to travel, Cabral was the only teacher who followed through with her grant, as the other teachers had either left the teaching field or were unavailable.
“It was incredible, the opportunity to go to Hawaii is an incredible experience,” Cabral said. “I’m so happy. I felt so lucky to be at Alma and have that experience and then be chosen.”
Instagram takeover of her trip
Even with the time difference, Cabral hosted an Instagram takeover, posting live videos of her trip to communicate her findings with students.
During an open house for this school year, Cabral met with families and prospective students. To her surprise, they recognized her from her postings on social media.
“They got to know me before they got to meet me this year,” Cabral said.
Sharing her experiences with the class
Students will be able to benefit from her findings soon, as the astronomy unit will be launching in the coming weeks. A large portion of her trip was dedicated to astronomy photography, so she has plenty of photos to incorporate into slideshows, notes and presentations for her students.
A stop at the Kilauea volcano
In addition to the stargazing, Cabral visited the site of the most active volcano on Earth, Kilauea. She took a group tour through and around the volcano crater and gathered many resources, magazines and books to incorporate into her geology unit in the spring. She will be able to share a first-hand experience of the eruption site as she was staying only 15 minutes north of the town. She was amazed by the volunteers who are natives who experienced the 2018 eruption and continue to clean up the aftermath.
While she was able to bring back some tangible learning resources, the biggest score was creating connections with museum directors for future Zoom or recorded conversations to share with her class. When teaching prehistoric eras of dinosaurs, she doesn’t have modern day connections who can discuss at length or actively participate with the students, but museum directors and residents of the island can answer students’ burning questions.
“I’m excited to bring that to the class and connect the class to those people,” Cabral said. “I’ve been there, I understand and experienced it myself and I can keep track of [the volcano] with the class.”
A drastic change in culture
Cabral was not only impressed by the nature component, but also the cultural differences. In her few weeks in Hawaii, she noticed that everyone was incredibly kind and open to having conversations, even with tourists. While on a tour, she met another schoolteacher on the island and made plans to meet with colleagues to discuss the differences between curriculum on the island and Northeast schools. Unfortunately, students went back to school in the first week of August so the timing was off, but she made connections for the future.
Cabral has a background in marine biology, so she was able to appreciate ocean life, water and culture respecting and caring for the Earth, land and resources. Prior to teaching, she worked at aquariums, so it was surreal to see exotic tropical fish living in their natural habitats.
“There’s this respect of community, heritage and Earth, something we try to teach our kids,” Cabral said. “The energy and idea of how we take care of our community.”
Standard-Times staff writer Kerri Tallman can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @kerri_tallman for links to recent articles.