Students get a bird’s-eye view of nature at preserve

ENCINITAS — In 1977, Steve Blumkin stumbled upon a Costa Rican paradise. The humble, self-described “out-of-the-spotlight” Solana Beach resident purchased 500 acres of the pristine jungle two years later in an effort to preserve its natural wonders. Then, with the help of numerous volunteers, he set about coordinating larger measures to educate local youth on the importance of conserving nature, culminating in the O2 for Life Rainforest Foundation.
The group will host its annual fundraiser at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach on Sept. 13 to fund the paramount educational component of its mission.
What better way to understand nature than to be a part of it? Rather than teach his students one-dimensional science lessons, La Costa Canyon High School science teacher David Emmerson began a club at the school — O2 for Life — focused on creating connections between students and the rainforest as well as the people who live there. Other schools around the country have also adopted the model for science education.
Over the past several years, the foundation has sponsored weeklong educational excursions to the Costa Rican site with Emmerson’s help. “This program is a
rainforest immersion where local ecologists and biologists adapt a curriculum based on the age of the students who come to the site,” Blumkin said.
“Each day, the rainforest became an incredible classroom as we were safely guided through it, allowing our senses to open and take it all in,” said Christina Hummel, a teacher from Pennsylvania who participated in the program two years ago.
The particular site managed by the foundation represents three-and-a-half percent of the world’s biodiversity according to scientists. “This area is also part of a wildlife corridor,” Blumkin said. The reserve is located on the shores of the Golfo Dulce in the Osa region of southwest Costa Rica.
Blumkin is especially proud of the heavy emphasis on education for all students. “We have inner city kids from around the country that are part of the groups that go down to Costa Rica,” he said. “Some of these kids have never been out of their town and all of a sudden they are in a completely different environment, connecting with nature in a way that would not be possible otherwise.”
The foundation operates much like a rainforest — lean and using all of its available resources. “We are a very grass-roots organization with an all-volunteer staff,” Blumkin said. “All of the funds raised go to supporting the education program.”
The goal of the education of students is simple and completely achievable. “People can have a meaningful impact on the planet in whatever way we can contribute,” Blumkin said. “We are a tiny part of a solution.”
For more information on the foundation or to buy tickets to the fundraiser, visit www.o2forlife.org.

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