Kelsey Vollmer

The Meridian School, Seattle WA

Participate in the “Educator Academy in the Amazon Rainforest” located in Iquitos, Peru to explore place-based learning and experience best practices for implementing inquiry-driven instruction in the classroom. Interact with the local people and culture of the Machu Picchu region in Peru to inform our school's global competency program.

Where I've Been

  • Cusco, Peru
  • Iquitos, Peru
  • Lima, Peru
  • Machu Picchu, Peru
  • Ollantaytambo, Peru

My Fellowship in Images

Challenging my perception of Amazon insects.
After a beautiful celebration with parents and students in the Amazon Village of Pucallpa, where children splashed water on us and rubbed our faces with Achiote paint.
Working our way up to 100+ feet on the canopy walkway at ACTS lodge. The views from the top of the Amazon Rainforest helped us truly see the greatness and beauty of the forest.
Students in the Amazon village of Pucallpa, handmade gifts for each person. In this photo a kindergarten student is giving me a necklace and embracing me as a welcome to his community.
Libby and I had the opportunity to teach a nature art lesson with the students of Pucallpa Village in the Amazon. Students selected flowers and leaves from nature and we used sun paper to create a picture of the details.
The stunning site of Machu Picchu made me stop and wonder over the Inca's engineering abilities. Set atop the Andes Mountains where lawn mowers are hard to maneuver, the park relies on llamas to maintain the grounds.

Your Personal and Professional Growth

How have your knowledge, skills and capabilities grown?

The Educator Academy not only gave me the experience of learning in a completely different environment, but also allowed me to see that knowledge and culture develop differently depending on where one lives. For example, I worked on a “Nature Bingo” activity with students in the Amazon, and experienced that kids who grow up in close contact with nature have a much greater awareness of plants and animals around them than the students I work with in an urban environment.

As a result, in what ways will your instructional practice change?

I now have a much greater understanding that students’ experience shapes who they are and the connections they make. If I want students to understand the interconnectedness of the environment around them, I must take them into that environment and give them time to observe closely and meaningfully. I will embrace quiet time in nature and understand its value as opposed to feeling it is a waste of valuable teaching time.

What is the greatest personal accomplishment of your fellowship?

My greatest personal accomplishment is getting out of my comfort zone and experiencing a new and very different place, not just as a tourist, but as a learner. As a result of this fellowship, I realize how significantly my experiences shape me as a teacher and thus how they shape my students. I now realize that there is a world of learning opportunities out there and travel is not simply about personal experience, but also about experiences I can bring back to my classroom and students.

Impact on Your Classroom, School and Community

How will your experiences positively impact student learning in new ways?

My ability to make more real world connections to what I teach will positively impact the way my students learn. I have already integrated several science teaching tools that I learned about at the Amazon Educator Academy including handheld microscopes, ecosystem survey cubes, and nature journals. My experiences gave me the knowledge and tools to allow my students more time to be curious, wonder, and ask questions which I feel are the basis for scientific thinking.

What are your plans for working collaboratively with colleagues?

One particular piece I am working to collaboratively integrate with the whole school is a nature journaling program. We have purchased a nature journal for every student that will travel with them as they progress through the grades. A professional expeditionary artist is coming in to train our teachers on using nature journals with their students and we will work together to give students several opportunities throughout the school year to document their observations of nature.

Imagining the Future

How do you envision celebrating of your students’ new learning?

One thing I appreciate most is the documentation I kept while traveling. I can look back at my experiences and obtain something different each time I review my work. Through a cohesive science notebook and nature journal initiative I am bringing to my school, I envision students celebrating their learning with both their teachers and their parents/guardians at the end of the year. They will have the opportunity to see the progression of their scientific experiences and learning.

Are there issues or challenges in your school, community or the greater world about which you and your students might try to make a difference?

In the Amazon we had the opportunity to come together with a local community and complete tasks such as painting the school, building planter boxes, and leading lessons with the students. This school is part of a greater network, CONAPAC, that supports Amazonian rural communities. Our students can use their understanding of what makes a good school to support a school in the Amazon through CONAPAC’s adopt a school program.

How would you describe to a friend or a grant funder the most fundamental ways in which your fellowship has changed your personal and/or professional perspective?

The opportunity to not only visit a new country and continent, but also experience the most amazing professional development of my career has been wondrous. I now understand a happy life to be something other than professional success and wealth. Family, community, and joy are things I experienced with the people of Peru that I hope to draw on as I follow my dreams and give students the skills and knowledge needed to follow their passions as well.