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Teaching and Traveling with Environmental Scientist, Lisa Kerr

Every month, we’re proud to introduce you to an extraordinary educator from the US who believes in the power of educational travel to shape the lives of students, both academically and personally.

Today, we’d like to introduce you to Lisa Kerr, an educator and Environmental Scientist from California.

Hi Lisa, thanks for joining us. Before we jump into our questions, we’d love for you to tell our readers a little about yourself.

As a second generation Californian, my parents were always encouraging exploration and discovery of nature and foreign places. When I was ten I moved to Malta and lived there for a year. This experience helped to form my deep belief in respecting and experiencing all that this planet has to offer.

I have a passion for encouraging others to become more sustainable in their lifestyles and to be good stewards for the planet. I work with my students on several community projects including: monarch butterfly habitat restoration with the state parks, water quality monitoring with the city, school-wide recycling, and watershed cleanups in our community.

I’m unique with ACIS in that I am an Environmental Scientist and I’ve been traveling with students for 14 years. I believe that travel and experience outside of the classroom is one of the best ways to broaden a student’s horizon.

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Were those early childhood experiences of exploration and learning the catalysts for your teaching career?

I began teaching when I was 13 years old. I then continued to teach during college at Environmental Education camps. When my children entered school I became very involved and formed reading programs and field studies. It then became evident that I had a passion to educate othersand as my husband saysI’m an educator not just a teacher.

Oh I love that! I think there many would agree that there’s a significant difference between being an educator and a teacher. So what has been the most rewarding part of your career? Is that something you can easily put into words?

I think the most rewarding aspect of teaching is when I see students get the concept. That light in their eyes is a daily reward that I cherish.

I’ve also had students receive national awards for Environmental Activism, such as the David Brower Youth Award. At one particular award ceremony, the student acknowledged me as her inspiration for forming her passion and drive to continue to encourage others to be sustainable.

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That’s powerful stuff. It’s easy to see how your passion for your work and travel has inspired the lives and careers of your students. What do you hope students will get out of their travel experiences with you?

Most of all I hope they get the love of travel. Individually, I hope it helps them understand why education is important. I know that when I was in Rome, I came home and began reading about Roman history to better understand what I had experienced.

What’s the best part about bringing a group of students on an educational tour?

Where do I begin! I can remember a specific point on my Costa Rica trip where we were planting trees for a habitat corridor and one student said, “wow, this is cool, we are doing what we were taught will help.” That same student is now at UC Berkeley majoring in Environmental Science.

I truly believe that nature/life is the best teacher. Getting students out of their shell and showing them the unique qualities of different lands really does change their lives forever.

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Speaking of unique travel experiences, what has been your absolute favorite and most memorable story to share?

This is a hard one, but I think the one that is most unique is the tour I did in San Ignacio lagoon.

We were whale watching on pangas, small boats. In this particular lagoon the gray whales calfthe mother whalewill bring her baby up to the panga and encourage human interaction. I was able to kiss a gray whale and rubbed the baleen. Afterwords, the mother whale actually picked up our boat and moved it.

Switching gears a little, we always like to ask our teachers for their expert advice about travel. What would you say to a student who is thinking about travel abroad for the first time?

First, I think that the student has to have trust in the teacher to take care of them. Students will away from home, in a new environment, eating new foods, and possibly speaking different languages. That can be a difficult adjustment. I think my advice would be: This is your life. See, taste, and hear the differences between their world and compare it to your own. Respect the difference, learn from it, grow from it.

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And what about your fellow educators. What advice would you give to a teacher who is thinking about or getting ready to travel abroad with students, maybe for the first time?

You need to love students, and be comfortable being more yourself around them. Often in our classroom we have a role to play. That role changes a bit when you spend day in and out with them.

It’s also a good idea to get the students together several times before the trip. Often the students don’t know each other. By the end of the trip, they will have established new friendships due to the unique experience they shared and this will remain with them for their life.

Great advice! We’d like to thank Lisa Kerr for taking the time to chat with us about her experiences in educational travel.

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