Redefining study abroad

UGA’s satellite campus in Costa Rica recently hosted a group of 97 Costa Rican high school students for the first Lincoln School Fit4Earth: Ninth Grade Biodiversity Challenge.

The Biodiversity Challenge emerged from a partnership between UGA Costa Rica and Lincoln School with the aim of developing an academically rigorous, hands-on program that builds students’ skills across all disciplines and promotes an authentic connection to science and nature.

As an active biological research station settled in the rich, premontane humid forest of Costa Rica, the UGA Costa Rica campus provided the space for facilitating this connection.

After a full year of co-planning curriculum and activities with UGA Costa Rica, Lincoln students and teachers arrived prepared for the challenge. Students participated in a variety of courses taught both by UGA Costa Rica faculty and staff and Lincoln School teachers. The program spanned five full academic days, with students participating in four-hour field-based lab courses in the mornings and 2-hour workshop blocks in the afternoons. Each student also logged 8 hours of service learning time, most of which was directly related to conservation work within the Bellbird Biological Corridor. Lincoln School teachers planned social activities every evening for their students.

This program afforded UGA Costa Rica the opportunity to collaborate with a leading Costa Rican academic institution and to help develop a model for future programs with similar goals. The size of the group tested the campus’ ability to operate effectively at full capacity and, at the program’s end, served as a testament to the strengths of campus operations and quality of staff employed.

The success of the Biodiversity Challenge has inspired developers to continue with this project in the future. The long-term vision is that all Lincoln students, as part of their seventh and ninth grade academic experience, will participate in two integrated field-based units of study at UGA Costa Rica. Close to 100 percent of Lincoln School’s 11th and 12th graders participate in the prestigious International Baccalaureate program; this project would aim to provide the foundation for students to return for independent studies, a requisite for those who wish to sit for the IB diploma. It is expected that UGA Costa Rica will begin to receive field study requests from this year’s ninth graders in 2013, who would like to return to Monteverde to start working on independent projects.