Lisa Seff, a Springs School science teacher, will soon be literally on top of the world, or close to it. Ms. Seff has been selected to be part of an elite team of six teachers and six researchers who will explore and collaborate in the frozen north — in this case in Barrow, Alaska, one of the northernmost cities on the planet.
Ms. Seff, who began the application process in September, was one of 200-plus applicants. She survived several elimination rounds and learned on Jan. 4 that she had been chosen.
“There was one teacher, it took her five years to get accepted,” Ms. Seff told the Springs School Board on Monday night. “And she had already been to space!”
The program, called PolarTREC (which stands for Teachers and Researchers Exploring and Collaborating), is supported by the National Science Foundation, and will culminate for Ms. Seff in a two to six-week trip with a researcher, Carin Ashjian of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, most likely in mid-August.
“It will be ‘summer’ there,” Ms. Seff said, placing quote marks with her fingers. The daily high temperatures could get up to 35 degrees.
According to its Web site, “the goal of PolarTREC is to advance polar science education and understanding by bringing [kindergarten through 12th-grade] educators and polar researchers together through hands-on field experiences.” This will lead, it is hoped, to improved teacher knowledge of multidisciplinary polar science, improved instruction, and, of course, empowering and engaging the students with reports from the Arctic Circle.
Ms. Seff said she hopes to use Skype to communicate with not just her upper-grade science classes but the school community as a whole. There was talk at the board meeting of hooking her in to the weekly Spirit Meets that Springs holds for students through fifth grade.
February brings a one-week trip to Fairbanks, Alaska, for an orientation, and Ms. Seff can hardly wait. “I am so excited about this,” she said.
When the research trip begins, Ms. Seff and Ms. Ashjian will spend most of their time on the scientist’s 43-foot vessel, studying zooplankton and phytoplankton. To those who may be a little dusty in basic elementary-school ecology, zooplankton is the name for small, drifting animal organisms in the ocean or seas. Phytoplankton are free-floating plants.
Ms. Seff is looking forward to “keeping an eye on” the phytoplankton, which can give clues to global warming, and the zooplankton, which is a favorite food of bowhead whales.
She also looks forward to being able to visit the school in Barrow, which, she said, is similar in makeup to Springs.
“It’s a small community,” she told the board. “The school population is 60 percent Inuit children, and it’s a fishing community with lots of history.”
Ms. Seff’s goal is “to set up a long-term relationship between the research community and Springs School,” she said, and “to bring the whole school with us” through communication and lesson plans, which are supplied by PolarTREC.