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Santo Domingo As a Nature Discovery Center

By Robert Sawczuk
Santo Domingo As a Nature Discovery Center

Nowadays, the world wide web is a needed resource for students to use in their study of the natural and life sciences. The Internet is filled with valuable information and allows students to see habitats and ecosystems that are difficult to experience first-hand. However, there is still an important place in science for field trips and hands-on experiences. That was the motivation for a two-part class trip to the Damajagua Waterfalls near Puerto Plata on November 12, 2015, followed by a visit to the Botanical Gardens in Santo Domingo on Friday January 29, 2016.
Early on the morning of November 12, 40 students and three teachers (Robert Sawczuk, science; Lisette Isaias, science; and Pedro Cabiya, English) from the American School of Santo Domingo left their school in the capital at 6 a.m. bound for Damajagua Waterfalls on the other side of the island—a journey of approximately four hours. The tired but enthusiastic students got to visit this spectacular gorge of 27 natural chutes or waterfalls, which provides visitors with an exhilarating canyoning experience that is accessible to most young people in reasonably good physical condition. Following all directions of the experienced park guides along with proper footwear ensures safety for all. Students experienced the excitement of sliding and jumping down waterfalls with the help of local guides. Due to an ongoing drought at the time, only 11 falls were open for exploration.
Over the course of their visit, students were able to enjoy varied flora and fauna. Bird life at the park is both endemic and transitory. The streams contain an interesting fish called dajaos, which is a type of fresh-water mullet. In addition, this is also an excellent area for earth science study due to fascinating geological formations.
An important goal and reason for a science trip should be to spark a student’s interest, excite them, and encourage them to be curious and eager to learn more. This goal was met to a considerable extent. In the words of Enrique, a Grade 11 student at our school, “The trip was amazing . . . it was an adventure full of adrenaline and motion . . . it was interactive and was a whole lot better than standing still and looking at stuff. I believe we all found a beautiful landmark that made us love our country even more.” Another Grade 11 student named Leslie said “What I liked about the 27 waterfalls was the feeling of being in the air for a couple of seconds after making the jumps into the water . . . and getting the opportunity to be on the hill as we made our way up, and walking through rivers between the waterfalls.”
On January 29, a smaller group of students visited the Botanical Gardens in the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo with their science teacher, Robert Sawczuk, and their social studies teacher, Joshua Vega. This trip was only a 12-minute ride from our school rather than a four-hour journey. However, it was equally important and a source of much learning for our students. The tone was set by the Damajagua trip to learn a lot more about the numerous plants and bird life observed on the previous school excursion. A lot of information is available at this important attraction in the Dominican Republic, and all in one place. An informational plaque is associated with many bushes, trees, and other plants. Our bilingual students can take advantage of resources available in both English and Spanish.
As the largest of its kind in the Caribbean, the Santo Domingo Botanical Gardens covers over 200 acres and is one of the best in the world. It contains a diverse range of flora that includes lots of native plants, lovely palms, and over 300 varieties of orchids. Greenhouses contain bromeliads and aquatic plants. Furthermore, not endemic but very noteworthy nonetheless is the manicured Japanese garden with a maze of shrubs and a pagoda with shaded benches beside a babbling brook.
My students explored the park on a motorized train that ran the length of the gardens, featuring a guided tour with a stop-off at some of the highlights. They were also able to wandering about the park unsupervised and explore certain other areas at their leisure. This sanctuary for both flora and fauna allowed students to consider plant structures, characteristics, habitats, diversity, and adaptations all in one place. Finally, a small museum on site presented additional information about habitats and ecosystems throughout the Dominican Republic.
This tourist attraction is another of the Dominican Republic’s jewels. In the words of Arlette, a Grade 10 student, “Everyone who enters the botanical garden can breathe, feel, and see our country’s true beauty.” Rafael, a Grade 11 student, felt that “we got to observe the plants up close, we had fun, and I especially enjoyed the Japanese gardens.” Enrique, also from Grade 11, stated that he “really enjoyed watching the lily pad effect in action, the hydrophobic plants, and observing the life around us.”
In conclusion, these field trips were very helpful in motivating students to learn more. These experiences in nature helped students to gain a better understanding of textbook/e-book material on plants by letting them make connections with actual flora.

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