A middle school teacher took learning to new heights this summer.
Montville Township resident Jill Alessandro, a sixth-grade science teacher at Revere Middle School, and two of her former students visited the Andorran Pyrenees as part of Jason’s Learning program, which enables teachers and students to work side-by-side with scientists and engineers around the world.
During their trip Aug. 4-10, they experienced firsthand what it would be like to pursue a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) career.
“The trip was amazing,” Alessandro said.
She said she was exposed to scientists in real-world situations, and was excited to work with members of the Earthwatch Institute, an international environmental charity.
Alessandro and 14-year-old students Meredith Stein and Drake Du, freshmen at Revere High School, studied climate change and the mountains’ ecosystem — plant flowering and pollination in the forests and alpine meadows of Andorra, a tiny country (181 square miles ) bordered by Spain and France — as well as how insects affect the food chain. Teachers and students from Virginia, West Virginia and Texas also were in their group.
The nonprofit Jason’s Learning program was named after the Argonauts in Greek mythology. It was founded in 1989 by
Dr. Robert D. Ballard and provides a STEM curriculum and learning experience for K-12 students.
Alessandro, who has been teaching at Revere since 1998, will bring the program to her classroom this year.
“We’re using it as a supplemental program for our science curriculum,” she said. “We’re going to (use) it for our enrichment classes.
“We’ll do a lot of labs in my classroom. Hands-on is the best way to learn. This inspired me to get these kids outside of my classroom.”
She said first heard about the program from Revere Superintendent Matthew Montgomery and applied for a spot on the Jason Argonaut team. She went through a vetting process and wrote several essays.
Revere Schools sponsored the educational experience.
“The trip challenged me. I did a lot more than I ever thought I could do,” Alessandro said. “I was proud of myself to meet those challenges, and then taking it one more step.”
One of the challenges was hiking the Pyrenees.
Until then, the extent of Alessandro’s hiking had been at Austin Badger Park in Montville Township, and when the program began with a hike up the steep mountains, she wondered, “What did I get myself into?”
“It was definitely physically challenging,” she said. “It was the most strenuous expedition I’d ever done. We would hike an hour and a half to get to our research site. It was high elevations to low elevations.”
The trip was “so different from what I ever do,” Alessandro said. “It was so inspirational. I’m going to apply it in my classroom.”