“The Arctic seems barren, but you discover the rich beauty of the mountains and wildlife as you explore,” said BHS Teacher Leticia Guzman Ingram, as she began her presentation on her travels to the Arctic Circle recently at the Basalt Library.
In June, Ingram traveled to the Arctic Circle as a Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow. Ingram and 40 other teachers from around the globe spent 11 days photographing and studying the region’s flora and fauna. In a presentation at the library last week, Ingram shared her experience with community members so they could see the Arctic as she saw it and get a sense of the land.
“It reminds me of a fairyland,” Ingram said in her presentation. “There’s soft and spongy grass, with ice underneath that never thaws. Mountains so extensive as you’re taking in the landscape, then tiny purple flowers which are amazing because they can grow and survive. It’s never dark. And we only saw one other sailboat the whole time.”
As part of her research expedition, Ingram became a National Geographic Educator and received special photography training to learn how important the role of storytelling plays in documenting research. Humorously enough, her camera broke early on in her trip.
“I took a lot of pictures with my iPhone, and I have to say, there are so many features on there that are just amazing,” she said with a laugh. Her favorite picture, capturing purple saxifrage, is one she took on her phone.
Ingram teaches ESL, biology and film appreciation at Basalt. In 2016, she was named Colorado Teacher of the Year. She said she learned so much on her trip that she is now able to take into her lessons. Whether it is explaining that male Svalbard reindeer drop their antlers in November, meaning Santa’s reindeer are actually all girls, or using her new photography skills for her film appreciation classes, Ingram maintains she is a lifelong learner.
“This trip opened up a new world of what I want to learn. I’m 53 and I’m always learning,” she said. “Global education is so important and helps us to learn about each other and ourselves.”
She said the most surreal moment of her trip was when she traveled just short of 80 degrees North.
“You’re thinking I’m right above the world. This is as north as you can get,” Ingram said.
She also talked about how her natural curiosity got her in trouble a few times with crew members – due to how dangerous polar bears can be – and the sheer cold of the Arctic waters.
“They had a platform in the middle of the water because they had to pull you out right away, otherwise you would freeze,” Ingram said. “You couldn’t not jump in though, I mean how many times can you say you had a chance to swim in the Arctic? Swimming in the rivers at home now is a piece of cake, too!”
The most sobering part of her trip, though, was seeing the effects of climate change and litter as far north as she did.
“I wondered, how did it make it here? It was sad to see. Everyone on the ship found some kind of trash,” Ingram said.
“It made me think about what I use on a daily basis and is it washing up not just in the Arctic, but in our oceans, our rivers. I asked crew members what to do to help and they told me we know what to do, but we just don't do it. When we do it, though, it does make a difference. This trip made me think about what I can do. I’m trying really hard. I want my great grandkids to go to the Arctic and see the beauty, not the trash and the damage humans are doing. I want them to go outside and embrace the moment like I had the chance to,” she said.
One lesson Ingram would like to include in her classes is introducing the app Litterati to students. The app is a world data bank of pictures documenting litter in order to help clean it up or reduce it all together.
Ingram explained how students in a town in California, using the app, found plastic straws from restaurants nearby were polluting the ocean. Upon learning this, the restaurants stopped using plastic straws altogether.
For her presentation, which documents just a few of Ingram’s experiences with glaciers, polar bears and an unfortunate lack of narwhals, she found a way to tell her story.
“I picked photos that told the story to me and so I wanted to share them to tell the story to others,” Ingram said. “I wanted to make a point that if I can do this, other people from our community can too.”
To be sure, in some of her pictures, Ingram can be seen hiking in the Arctic Circle wearing none other than a Basalt High School T-shirt.
Ingram said she is thankful to the community for its support, and hopes to continue finding new ways to educate others as she keeps teaching. Her photos from her Arctic trip are on display at Basalt Regional Library.