From Basalt to the Arctic Circle: teacher earns National Geographic fellowship

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

Although Wednesday was the last day of classes at Basalt High School, teacher Leticia Guzman Ingram must wait another couple of weeks for summer break.

Ingram will head to the Arctic Ocean on Saturday on an 11-day education and research expedition.

Ingram was one of only 45 teachers across North America to be selected as a Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow for 2019.

“I’m just going to be a sponge and learn as much as I can while I’m there,” Ingram said.

Ingram, 52, teaches biology, film and a special class designed to help newcomers from other countries adjust to life in the Roaring Fork Valley through studying English and customs. She was recognized as the 2016 Colorado Teacher of the Year.

Ingram undertook some special instruction during the 2018-19 academic year from the National Geographic Society and learned about the fellowship program. She applied and was accepted, somewhat to her amazement. It’s a good lesson for students in little old Basalt to realize they should aim high, she said.

Ingram and another teacher from Florida will join naturalists and researchers on the Lindblad Expedition ship National Geographic Explorer in Norway. They will have rare access for viewing and studies of animal and plant life. Ingram said she is specifically interested in learning about micro-plastics in the ocean.

“Everybody’s real excited in all of my classes,” she said.

Ingram had students write down questions they would like her to seek answers to while on the expedition. She’s taking the questions on about 40 index cards.

“Is there any way humans can reverse the effects (of climate change) on the Arctic?” says one question from a student in the biology class.

“How tall is a polar bear?” asked a student in her newcomer class.

Ingram went to the National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D.C., in April to meet some of the naturalists and researchers she will be shadowing. She also took crash courses in photography and video editing to help capture events on the expedition and in public speaking and outreach planning to help share the information next school year.

Ingram said she will be able to leave the boat — which is a combination research vessel and cruise ship — to accompany naturalists in kayaks and Zodiacs as well as on land. How much time they spend off the boat depends on the amount of ice they encounter, she said.

An online itinerary for the trip says they will fly from Oslo, Norway, to Longyearbyen, Norway, an archipelago that is one of the world’s northernmost inhabited areas. From there, they will use the National Geographic Explorer as a floating base camp for six days. They will explore north of the Arctic Circle, where the sun shines all day every day during the summer.

“This voyage is undertaken in the spirit of discovery, and our travel in the archipelago is exploratory by design. In a region ruled not by humans but by polar bears, we let nature guide our course,” the itinerary says.

They will venture to the base of tidewater glaciers, kayak among icebergs and explore coastal fjords. They will likely have opportunities to view walruses, seals, reindeer and polar bears.

Passengers on the boat have the opportunity to take the “Polar Plunge” — a quick jump into the frigid Arctic Ocean. Ingram said she and the other teachers have already vowed to make the leap and have purchased special narwhal hats for the occasion. Her hope is to see one of the Arctic porpoises.

She plans to keep a blog of the journey and will be sharing what she learns through a variety of ways next school year. She hopes to have photo displays and will talk to school and community groups.

“It’s going to be so exciting. I can’t wait,” Ingram said.

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