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Teacher to spend break on research

She'll be visiting Costa Rica to study the rain forest and will enlighten her students when she returns.

By RICHARD DANIELSON, Times Staff Writer
Published December 30, 2007

High Point Elementary School teacher Nancy McClelland shows her students some of the gear that she will wear on a scientific expedition she's taking to Costa Rica. She will return Jan. 8.
[Courtesy of Nancy McClelland]
Nancy McClelland teaches English, reading and language acquisition.

[Getty Images (2005)]
On a previous trip to Costa Rica, McClelland and her husband hiked in Corcovado, about 123 miles south of the capital San Jose. This time, she'll be at La Selva Biological Research Station and Tirimbina, a national wildlife refuge.

As her students from High Point Elementary School enjoy the last week of their winter break, teacher Nancy McClelland will celebrate the new year by doing scientific research in the tropical rain forest of Costa Rica.

McClelland, 57, planned to leave Saturday to join six other volunteers, as well as graduate students and field technicians, at La Selva Biological Research Station and in Tirimbina, a national wildlife refuge.

There, she'll work with a team collecting caterpillars and the plants where they live, conducting chemistry bioassays and maintaining experiments. A National Geographic Foundation grant to promote geographic literacy is paying for the trip.

McClelland, who is in her eighth year at High Point Elementary, sees the trip as a teaching and learning opportunity for herself and her students.

"I just really wanted to do a tiny bit of geography for these 7-year-olds," she said. "I hope that I can give them just a little picture of another country. ... I would like them to see a little bit of the scientific process."

McClelland graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1972. At High Point Elementary, she teaches English, reading skills and language acquisition to students who speak other languages.

For her classes, McClelland has brought caterpillars from her garden to school, where first-graders have been reading about the life cycles of butterflies.

McClelland's expedition was arranged through the nonprofit Earthwatch Institute, which matches volunteers with researchers in the field who need support doing conservation science. Earthwatch also arranged for her grant.

During her stay in Central America, McClelland will write a blog and use a Web cam to share her experiences.

But because her students will still be on their winter break while she is in Costa Rica, she will use the Internet or telephone to exchange messages from the field with a third-grade class from Massachusetts. She will return Jan. 8 and be back in the classroom Jan. 9.

McClelland and her husband, Rudy, who owns an adventure travel company, went to Costa Rica in 2001. During that trip, they went river-rafting, hiked the base of Volcan Arenal, walked beaches where green turtles nest and watched a net-casting spider on a night walk in Corcovado.

On this trip, however, McClelland said she looks forward to being able to learn about the flora and fauna of the rain forest in even more detail.

"I love traveling with my husband, but, as I've often said to him, I wish we had someone along" who could explain what they're seeing, said McClelland, who lives in Safety Harbor.

To get ready for Costa Rica, which gets nearly 200 inches of rain a year, McClelland has outfitted herself with a lot of wet-weather gear, including mud boots, quick-drying clothes, Teva-like water shoes, a waterproof watch, dry bags for storage and insect repellent.

One of the main attractions for McClelland was the country's 850 species of birds.

"I really consider myself a naturalist," said McClelland, a member of the Audubon and Native Plant societies. "I have been interested in plants and the natural world for a long time."

To learn more

Earthwatch Institute

Visit or call toll-free 1-800-776-0188.

[Last modified December 29, 2007, 21:43:01]

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