COTTONWOOD - Two Cottonwood Middle School teachers paid their own way to the National Conference for Geographic Education in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sept. 22-27.
Rhonda Gonzalez, seventh grade social studies teacher, and Trish Hutchinson, Advanced Learner Placement teacher, joined more than 600 other geography teachers to make their own presentations, as well as listen to lesson presentations by other educators.
Gonzalez and Hutchinson were part of the Arizona Geographic Alliance through National Geographic. In that organization, teachers earn college credit for attending workshops and classes. They are then expected to share what they learn with teachers throughout Arizona.
"We are teacher consultants for the alliance," Gonzalez said. "I got great lessons to bring home."
But she and Hutchinson also shared their own presentations with teachers at the conference. "It's college level all the way down to kindergarten," Gonzalez said.
Her presentation was Roots and Wings, a project she uses in her classroom to help students discover the immigration that brought their families to the United States.
Hutchinson's presentation was about the Navajo Code Talkers.
But the trip wasn't only about lessons and presentations. The teachers stayed in San Juan but had side trips they could go on. One day, the two CMS teachers decided to see all of San Juan that they could by traveling throughout the city on public buses. "That's when we really saw Puerto Rico," Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez and Hutchinson both agreed that their favorite part of the trip was to Vieques Island to take a nighttime trip into Bioluminescent Bay. "We had to go in kayaks," Gonzalez said.
She said the trip started on the ocean and then went back into a channel. "It was totally dark," she said. "No light at all." But there were the night sounds of the jungle.
Gonzalez said she could see luminescence in the ripples flowing back from the kayak. The glowing water flowed off the kayak paddle every time it was lifted from the water. And when they stirred their hands through the water and pulled them out, mysterious blue-green water drained off of them.
Gonzalez said the water is full of single-celled microorganisms. "When you mix them up, they let their energy out," she said. "They luminesce."
Next year, the conference will be held in Savannah, Ga. Gonzalez says she is interested in that trip. "I'll do it again," she said.
"It was just a wonderful opportunity. It was an amazing experience."