Waterside Teacher Awarded Fellowship Opportunity to the Galápagos

 Waterside Teacher Awarded  Fellowship Opportunity to the Galápagos

By Katie McFadden

Travel is the best teacher. Recently, Susan Harter, a second-grade teacher at Waterside Children’s Studio School, was recently selected as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow. The opportunity will allow Harter to embark on a Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic voyage to the Galápagos this fall, to gain new firsthand knowledge that she can bring back to her school for future lessons.

For the second time, Harter applied for this opportunity back in the fall. Having not been selected the first time, she knew how competitive it could be. But in February, she got the call. Harter was one of 35 formal and informal educators from all over the U.S. and Canada selected by Lindblad Expeditions and the National Geographic Society for the fellowship that will send them on ship expeditions to Antarctica, the Galápagos, Patagonia, Alaska, the Arctic and more, as part of a two-year commitment to the fellowship.

Harter, a resident of Brooklyn, has been teaching at Waterside in Rockaway Park since 2010, and was part of the school’s founding committee. Always working on improving her own teaching skills, Harter learned about this opportunity while working with Math for America, a NYC professional development program. She was overjoyed to find out she had been selected this year. “I was thrilled. It was the Friday of February break and I just got home, and this random number was calling, and they said they were from National Geographic, and I knew it was good news,” she said. “It’s really an honor to be selected. I was just floored really.”

Even though she wasn’t selected the first time, Harter knew it was worth trying again. “I am really interested in play space education and outdoor education, getting my students outside, so National Geographic has a lot of those resources and things to help teachers in terms of getting students to become explorers,” she said. “Their education idea encompasses this explorer mindset, so they want to help teachers help their students to develop skills and knowledge relating to exploration. That all vibes with how I want to help students to care about the world around them. I was teaching during Hurricane Sandy and our school was displaced. We saw climate change in action and as the closest school in New York City to the ocean, I feel our students and school community have a really unique perspective on climate issues. That’s something that’s hard to teach in second grade but really inspiring and empowering to teach in second grade. We’ve been spearheading climate action days, getting students to learn about pollution and doing beach cleanups, and learning about the ways we can take action, even as children. That all inspired me to apply for this fellowship so I can get even more knowledge about how to help my students connect with the world around them and inspire them to protect it.”

Harter is among 35 educators from 20 states and two Canadian provinces who will be able to take the knowledge they learn on their respective expeditions, back into their classrooms. Harter says she’s only one of two second grade teachers selected for the program open to Pre-K-12 teachers and others that teach at after school programs and camps. Even among them, for the first time, is a teacher for the deaf. There are also music teachers, art teachers, Spanish teachers and others involved. “What we all take from it will be very different,” she said.

In April, Harter got to meet the cohort of other fellows in the program at a four-day event in Washington, DC, launching the start of the two-year commitment to the program. “We spent four days learning about the fellowship, what’s expected and how we can bring the fellowship to our communities,” she said. The fellows provided their top choices for their expeditions, and while Harter listed Antarctica first, she is happy to be assigned her second choice of the Galápagos. “I’m really glad they placed me there because I think it’s going to be even better for my classroom,” she said.

Her expedition aboard Lindblad Expeditions’ state-of-the-art expedition vessel, National Geographic Endeavor II, doesn’t begin until November 29. The expedition will last 10 days, as she returns December 8. Harter says she’ll spend about a week on the main ship, traveling to the various islands of the Galapagos. “Each day we will take smaller zodiac boats on to land and will go on hikes, visit the Charles Darwin Foundation, visit a giant tortoise reserve, kayak, paddle board, snorkel, including with sea lions, explore volcanoes and more” she said. “It’s very exciting.”

Even though it’s still more than six months away, excitement is already growing for Harter and her current students, who are curious about the many animal species that can be found in and around the Galápagos islands. “I told my students I was going, and next year I’ll have different students, but my students are going to do research projects on Galápagos animals and they’re super excited. They have all these questions, like they found out that marine iguanas, which are only found in the Galápagos, can sneeze out salt, so they’re hoping I can get video. They also heard that tortoises can go a really long time without peeing, so they want me to catch one peeing,” she said with a laugh. The magic of this is the kids who are so excited about it. So I’m most excited about the animals and bringing that firsthand knowledge back to my kids.”  Harter says she’ll not only incorporate what she learns into her own second grade classroom but will do presentations for other classes within the school community, wrapping up the program in 2026.

Harter encourages other educators to take a chance on becoming a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow. “I think this is an extremely valuable professional development opportunity and I want to encourage other educators to apply,” Harter said. The application process for the 2025 program will open in the fall and can be found by searching “Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship.” Information is available on the National Geogra­phic website.

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