When CIRENAS was created our goal was always to help combine conservation, education and research with meaningful projects designed to give back to the people and environment surrounding the Caletas-Ario National Wildlife Refuge. Each of our courses is charged with the responsibility of completing a service learning or ecological restoration project. These projects have been the backbone of each of our courses, providing students with a tangible project and direct outcomes. Each student steps away from their experience with a different realization of the power of service and hopefully a few new skills and friendships in the process.
Each project is identified by each town’s school board at the beginning of the year, in order to best address the needs of the students and community.
This year’s service learning projects included.
- Building Solar Ovens – Our Semester Program students learned to build solar ovens with Dr. Francis Vanek of Cornell University. The students built one oven for the CIRENAS campus and then built another with the students of Quebradas de Nando for the school to use. Solar ovens utilize the sun’s rays to create enough heat to cook food, thereby reducing the expense of propane or the health risks associated with cooking with wood.
- Computer Donations – Over the last two years The Park School has donated 14 MacBook laptops to the local students and schools. These computers are not really donations as much as an exchange for the kindness and hospitality of our homestay and service learning project communities. These computers enable students to begin to learn important computer skills that will make them more competitive in the job market and reduce their dependence on traveling to Internet cafes in order to complete assignments that require online research or a typed paper, which is becoming more common especially in the high schools.
- Costa de Oro Turtle Nursery Construction - This year’s Summer Program students helped PRETOMA (a marine conservation organization) construct a new turtle nursery just north of the CIRENAS campus on the Costa de Oro. The students also helped PRETOMA volunteers patrol the beaches for nesting sea turtles, in order to transport their eggs to the nursery.
- Painting and Murals – This continues to be one of our favorite activities to do with our student groups as it enables participants of all ages to join together to beautify the schools. This year our Semester Program students created a beautiful mural for the Rio Frio school, while our Exeter and Westminster courses repainted the Quebradas de Nando school building and touched up our first ever mural created by Telluride Mountain School in 2009.
- English Lessons – The local communities have identified English and computer skills as being the two areas in which they would like their students to have more of a focus. Each of this year’s groups who participated in service learning also taught English lessons to the local students sometimes combined with environmental education.
- Signage – Our students worked with local school children to create fun and informational signs to place around their towns and within the Caletas-Ario National Wildlife Refuge. These signs help students, local people and tourists by providing information about speed limits, school zones, turtle nesting areas and identify local trees.
- Beach Clean Ups – Almost every group participates in a beach clean up sometimes accompanied by local students or community members. CIRENAS is now working along with Water Keepers Alliance to help Playas Manzanillo and Ario earn their Blue Flag certification for clean beaches. Usually our beach clean ups also involve creating art with our beach trash and discussing all of our responsibilities as consumers to buy products that can be recycled, biodegrade or repurposed. This year CIRENAS removed over 100 large bags of trash from Playas Manzanillo and Ario.
- Picnic Table – When asked what type of project that the students from The Park School in Brookline, MA could do along with the Bello Horizonte school their teacher told us that they were in need of another picnic table for their dining hall area. The students helped to sand and assemble the table and as a thank you the students from Bello Horizonte put on an incredible dance performance ending with almost everyone participating, laughing and enjoying new friendships.