I hold an adamant belief that travel can be an invaluable, life-altering experience. Families that have the means to travel often see it as a luxury, and take for granted the incredible learning that they and their children gain. I work in an alternative high school – most of my students are from families that do not have anywhere near those kinds of means. Their experiences have been, in large part, a struggle and the larger world is mostly an abstraction – including the potential wonder and hope that it can hold. Monteverde, Costa Rica epitomizes that kind of wonder and hope – blending the culture of indigenous inhabitants with that of the American Quaker settlers that arrived in the 1950’s, and balancing a model of conservation with becoming an international eco-tourism destination. The book, Walking With Wolf, tells this story in a remarkable way.
We are now in the midst of a year-long interdisciplinary class that will include Walking With Wolf, student blogs (which I hope you'll check out on the right), individual research projects, and a 10-day trip to Monteverde this Spring. The students are working hard and must fundraise their entire way there - they need your help. If you are willing to support their efforts,
checks can be made out to “Lister Academy – Costa Rica Class”, and mailed to: Robert J. Lister Academy, Attn: Bryan Mascio, 35 Sherburne Road, Portsmouth, NH 03801.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

End of the year

It has been very difficult to keep up with the blogging during the second semester, and especially since returning from Costa Rica. On June 20th, the students exhibited their final projects, allowing them to share all of their hard work and vital growth that took place throughout the year. I encourage any and all readers to check out the student blogs (links are on the right), where they uploaded digital versions of their projects. Winston's project was presented at the Portsmouth Sustainability Fair, and can be seen in a post below, or at our YouTube Channel.

Thank you again for all of the incredible help and support that we received, and I hope that you will continue to follow next year's Sustainable Education class - modeled after this year's Costa Rica class. Please check out the video for next year's class on our YouTube Channel.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Winston's Project for the Sustainability Fair

As we read Walking with Wolf, studied different aspects of Monteverde, and prepared to travel to Costa Rica, students developed and began their individual research projects. Many changed and evolved as we gained better insights and everyone is now hard at work on their projects. Winston's project developed into a presentation for Portsmouth's 4th Annual Sustainability Fair. Winston has been one of our most vocal students regarding the unique power of this class, and creating a presentation for this forum is a natural fit. He created a video that looks at our class through the lens of sustainable education. He asks the question of what makes for true sustainable education - that will inform and inspire students in such a way that they will become the change agents we so desperately need - and whether or not our class is a model for that. I hate to ruin the ending, but his conclusion is a resounding YES - so please check out his video to see why.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Looking to Next Year

Even while I was in Costa Rica, students were asking me what we're doing next year. In truth, I had also been thinking about it, but hadn't come to a certain conclusion. I listened intently, though, to some of their insights about the value of our class and the particular aspects that they grew from. After returning, I consulted with the rest of the staff at the Lister Academy and my principal, Nancy. Despite being exhausted from the trip, my devotion to the power of hard work and travel as a transformative experience, is stronger than ever. I spent this past weekend creating a video to introduce the possibility to the student body, and this morning received an excited response as I showed it in our morning meeting.

Who knows what next year will bring, but I know it'll be powerful.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Back to School

We're back at school and the students are starting to shift back into their research projects. It's a difficult transition for all of us, since it was only a few days ago that we were back in Costa Rica and enjoying much warmer weather. We worked hard while down there, but it's a different kind of work and everyone is wishing that we had a bit more time before returning to the classroom. Thankfully for all of us, the end of this week marks the start of a week's vacation - how much are tickets for a quick trip back to Monteverde?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tuesday 4-12-11

It is 5am our time and we're getting ready to leave Monteverde for Arenal. We'll be whitewater rafting and planting trees on our way. Much of the group is a bit sad to leave here - it's been beautiful and a very family-like feeling while staying at the Valle Campanas. However, there is more of Costa Rica to see. We will likely have more limited internet access at the next two locations, so overnight, we uploaded some of the zipline and wildlife videos to the YouTube Channel. There's no way to edit them here, so you're getting us in our full glory. Here's a sample.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Hola!! Thank you for all of the great questions - here are our responses!

How hot is it? ~Maria

Around 60 when it is dark 80 when it is bright.

What was the forest like? Is there a lot of bugs? Is it humid? ~Connor

The forest is like the forest back home times 100! Everything is, greener,hotter,prettier. It can get humid, but for the most part its fairly dry.

How are you guys adjusting to the time difference? ~Katrina

It is very easy to adjust, the time difference is 2 hours, so 7am for you is 5am for us!

How big is the San Luis waterfall? ~Sean

1,603 meters... Side note- that is 300 more meters than the hike to get there!!!!

What was ziplining like? Have all of you been horseback riding before? Did you hike all the way up the cloud mountain? ~Jasmine

Zip lining was spectacular. Let's just say it felt like you were flying. No only 3 of us had previously been horseback riding. No we drove to the top of the "cloud mountain" then hiked around the top.

Do you have to climb the whole forest? ~Katie

No we don't have to hike everywhere, we get taxis for some trips ;)

Did you get to try any of the cheese?

Si!! It's a totally new flavor, delicioso!

Have you seen any wild animals: What does the Costa Rican flag look like?

Yes we some a monkey, some sloths , little bugs, a dead scorpion , and the works scariest crab that brittney f thought was a tarantula

We know It's red white And blue but we have not seen one

How hot is it in Costa Rica? ~Nathaniel

Refer to Maria's question :P

How much hiking have you done? ~Skylar

A lot, probably 5 is miles a day just walking about!

How was it seeing the sloths? Was the water from the waterfall warm? ~Chris

It was pretty cool !!!! No the water was absolutely freezing!

Thank you!!
April 8, 2011 12:35 PM

We are having trouble uploading videos to our pages, look to the student blogs, our Facebook and Youtube channel (hopefully) and such for the good stuff!!!!

Our itinerary for Monday is some are going on an early morning hike in the Children's Eternal Rainforest to try to see monkeys, while others get to experience real brown sugar making on the farm we're staying at. We leave Tuesday morning to go whitewater rafting on our way to Arenal. Pura Vida!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Friday April 8th

Today was a very active day for all of us. Some of us also experienced brand new things today. We went horse back riding, as well as a little hike to the San Luis waterfall. The waterfall was amazing. We all went in the water. At first the water was pretty chilly but we all got used to it. We all took turns jumping into the waterfall which was also amazing. The views here in Monteverde are quite incredible. There are more adventures ahead of us. We can't wait to share them with you all.

Thursday 4-07-11

This post will be quite short again, since it was another full day. We started off with a real Tico (Costa Rican) breakfast with Reina and Leo, then the tour at the Quaker Cheese Factory. After that, we met Wolf, Lucky, Kay and Eladio - that was amazing. It would be difficult to really express how it was, but we'll talk lots more about in posts to come. We finished off by seeing the sloth sanctuary.

Friday we're horseback riding to the San Luis waterfall, Saturday we're having a guided hike in the Monteverde Cloud Forest, and then Sunday is ziplining and a butterfly garden - we have lots of excitement to come.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

We have arrived after a long day of travel. We are all very excited to finally be here. While traveling we saw some pretty amazing things. We got to see the sunset which was beautiful. Tomorrow we are having breakfast with the people who own the place. Then we are off to the cheese factory . But this is the best part of the day we get to meet Wolf, Kay, Lucky and Eladio. We are looking forward to the amazing adventures we have ahead. Well since we are all absolutely exhausted we are going to bed. Goodnight!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Celebration Dinner

Last night we had our celebration dinner, hosting family members, friends and wonderfully supportive community members from Portsmouth and beyond. Jessica and the students did a fantastic job preparing all of the food, including 3 types of Gallo Pinto, an Avocado and Mango Salsa, Hearts of Palm Salad, and assorted Tropical Fruit. Everyone raved about the food and we will be sharing the recipes soon. The night was all about celebrating the students' hard work and achievements, and especially showing our appreciation for all those that have supported us along the way.

The students specifically recognized:
  • Dr. Lister, the namesake of our school, for his devotion and support of the idea of educating all students
  • Kristi Scarpone for her superior fund-raising talents and guidance
  • Amy Smith for her grant writing and enthusiasm
  • Kelley-Sue Leblanc for donating her invaluable time to help us with all-things-online
  • Martha Fuller Clark for an incredibly generous donation that is covering the airfare for the entire group
  • Carmela Mascio for her help in every fundraiser and support in between
  • Dick's Sporting Good and Timberland for helping to outfit us
  • Jennifer Feals, of the Portsmouth Herald and Seacoast Online, for sharing our story with the larger community
  • Stonyfield Farm for a grant that covered all of our transportation costs while in Costa Rica
  • New Hampshire Charitable Foundation for a grant that is covering many of our adventure tours including a day of white water rafting and tree planting
  • Joe Arnstein for providing us a place to dump all of the leaves that we raked as a fundraiser
  • Vicky Avery, from the Stratham Fair, for helping to arrange for us to have a fundraising booth last summer
  • The Middle Street Shell Station in Portsmouth for hosting our car wash
  • The entire staff and student body at the Robert J Lister Academy, but in particular Ellen Gagnon, Ilysse Sirmaian, and Nancy Roy.
  • The students were also very gracious in thanking Jessica and me for our efforts and the relationship that we have developed - I can say that this was an especially emotional moment for us.

As I am now continuing the final preparations for the trip, last night's festivities keep me more inspired than ever. We are now only 5 days away from our departure and are all home today because of an April Fool's Day snow storm - the tropical climate of Costa Rica seems all the more appealing.

Monday, January 17, 2011

We're So Excited!

In full disclosure, I do have the Pointer Sisters' song echoing in my mind as I write this post. I am so excited, and we all have lots to be excited about. The students at the Lister Academy continue to work incredibly hard and we have taken several big steps closer to our goal. Almost all of the students have received their passports - something that few had even considered getting otherwise. We have also purchased our airline tickets - leaving early in the morning on Wednesday, April 6th and returning even earlier in the morning on Sunday, April 17th. Additionally, we have arranged for our accommodations while in Monteverde - see my earlier post on Cabanas Valle Campanas.

The students have finished reading Walking With Wolf, and are starting to decide on their research projects that will dominate the spring semester and dictate our itinerary while in Costa Rica. We were also thrilled to be featured in the Portsmouth Herald this past Friday, with a great article by Jennifer Feals. In the article, we share our current status and plans for finishing our fundraising. We have a fundraiser at Papa Ginos in Portsmouth this coming Thursday night - just print out the flyer pictured here if you can come and support us. We'll also be doing a Costa Rica dinner mid-February - details to come.

I hope that you have been checking out the student blogs, and may consider a donation at our website, to help the students cross that finish line.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Cabanas Valle Campanas

Where you stay while traveling can be an important part of the experience, and this was my dilemma - until now. Originally, I had priced out hostels, figuring that it was the most economical way to go. There is certainly nothing wrong with a hostel - in addition to being the right price, it can have a very cool vibe with its common areas and communal living. I visited several very nice hostels that were family run and very safe right in Santa Elena, just outside Monteverde.

I was satisfied with those accommodations, but throughout our planning I continued to be nagged by the idea that there was a better solution. While a hostel is an interesting experience, it's a travel experience rather than an indigenous cultural experience - which would be a better fit with our class. When my wife and I went back to Monteverde last year, we stayed at a wonderful family farm that had added a few cabins on their property - Cabanas Valle Campanas. The cabins range from 3-person to 10-person, and each have running hot water and a full kitchen. It was paradise! Rather than being surrounded by the bustle of a hotel or town, we went to sleep with a private view of a splendid sunset and awoke to the birds just our door. We had breakfast a couple of the mornings with the family, in their home. (If you'd like to see some video of the cabins, they are in our feature video on the class YouTube Channel)

After speaking with the owner, Reina Cruz Brenes, we all decided that this would be an ideal solution. During our previous stay, I had spoken with Reina about my hopes of "someday" bringing students to Monteverde, and she had commented on my passion and dedication to them. As I started to fill her in, now, on the details of our class, she surprisingly shared that she knows Wolf - the main character of our book, Walking With Wolf. Now, I gather that many people in Monteverde "know" Wolf, but Reina explained that her uncle, Eladio, worked with Wolf - and it hit me that Eladio Cruz has a central presence in Wolf's stories (the picture to the right is from the author's blog, and has Wolf in the middle and Eladio to the right) . I can think of no better way to have the students immersed in what they have been learning, and am incredibly excited about this fateful discovery.

Please take some time to check out the student blogs, and if inspired to do so, head to our website to see ways to support their work.