Grosvenor Fellow Beth Quinones brought back lessons from November exploration of Galapagos Islands with National Geographic Society and Lindblad Expeditions

By Chuck Gibson

 SYCAMORE – Beth Quinones is a Biology and Life Science teacher at Sycamore High School. No way did she ever think she would be awarded a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow.  

That is exactly what happened after Quinones became a National Geographic Certified Educator. The goal is for teachers to bring geography back into the classroom and give students an understanding of the “interconnectedness” of the world. After being certified, she was invited to apply for a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow.

Goats in a boat starts a lot of conversations at Sycamore High School (Photo by Beth Quinones)

She started the application; put it on the backburner thinking she was wasting her effort because she would never be chosen. She put aside doubts and completed the application in summer of 2018.  There was also a video Quinones had to get in by December of 2018.  Once that was done, she forgot about it certain she would not be chosen from among thousands of other applicants. Then she got a call in February of 2019.

“This is Lindblad Expeditions and we’re happy to tell you that you’ve been awarded a fellowship and we’re going to send you to the Galapagos,” said the voice on the phone. ”I’m like YES!  I was beside myself,” said Quinones.  

Quinones had to contain her excitement. She was not allowed to tell her exciting news to anyone outside her classroom and school administrators. They needed to know she would need time off for training in Washington, D.C. in April and, of course, for the actual expedition in November.

 “I really love the fact the school district was very supportive,” she said. “Even though I was going to be out of the classroom, they were very supportive of me bringing the experience back to my students.”

April with National Geographic was four grueling 12-13 hour days of professional development training. Quinones was among 43 other teachers from all over the U.S., a few from Canada, and one teacher from Japan, who were taught videography, storytelling, how to get the right photo and how to be the face of National Geographic. She was in awe of being selected along with Rhoads Scholars and Fulbright Scholars.

“There’s something,” Quinones thought aloud. “I guess it’s my teaching style or my connection with my students. My application . . . somehow they saw something.”

Then came November and Quinones saw something. The group met in Ecuador, flew to the Galapagos and took a bus to the dock where they would board the ship Endeavour II.

The Blue-footed Booby bird. (Photo by Beth Quinones)

She immediately saw Iguana’s, Blue-footed Booby birds, and Sea Lions just hanging around swimming.

“We were introduced to the term ecological naiveté,” said Quinones. “These organisms are so protected they don’t see us as a threat at all. It’s their environment.”

Quinones saw Sea Lions walking in the middle of the street. A truck had to wait while one simply lay in the middle of the road sunning himself. She had to wait to go into the restroom while another Sea Lion was one under the park bench. It was not phased at all by her presence.

“This is amazing,” Quinones said. “That’s before we even got on the ship.”

Quinones boarded the ship which serves about 95 people. The other teacher accompanying her was a social studies teacher named Ashley Beckett from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The seas were not calm; kind of rolling and rough with the Galapagos nested between three ocean currents. Her first three days were rough.  

“I stayed the course,” said Quinones who had visions of taking notes every night, blogging, and posting photos. “I got the pictures. I got some of the blogs done. I couldn’t read and I really couldn’t write too much because I just couldn’t focus. I did record with my phone. I really wanted my kids to have part of my experience with me.”

Quinones saw sea lions everywhere, beautiful white sand beaches, and walked around hundreds of iguanas as they made their way into a bird colony. They entered an area and saw birds about two feet tall, snowy white, just chattering away – Nazca Booby birds.

 “There is no songbirds around here that make that sound,” she said “It was one of the huge highlights of my trip.”

Quinones time on the beach helped recover from three rough days on the sea. (Provided)

Sea Lions were everywhere. (Photo by Beth Quinones)

There was more for her to see and share with her students. Quinones didn’t know Flamingos could fly until she saw a flock of Flamingo’s in flight. Who would have thought the Albatross, with an 11-foot wingspan (largest wingspan of any bird) would have such a beautiful courting dance.

 “I was just gob smacked for lack of a better term at this beautiful bird,” Quinones said. “There were these courting pairs of Albatrosses doing amazing dances – things you see on National Geographic. I got to experience it.”

A pair of courting Albatrosses left Quinones “Gob smacked” (Photo by Beth Quinones)

Quinones experienced so much more on land and in the water. While visiting the Island of St. Barthelemy, she snorkeled with Sea Lions, Sea Turtles, White Tip Sharks and Penguins swimming all around her. She even found a way to scream with enthusiasm while snorkeling in the water with the Penguins. She saw the Juvenile Red-Footed Booby birds learning to fly on Genovesa Island. They visited Santa Cruz Island Research Station where they work for the conservation of Giant Tortoises. She learned researchers have repatriated 5,456 baby tortoises back to the island since 1971.  

Quinones visited a private school where they use problem-based teaching focused on their own geography and economy.  They call it place and space education teaching conservation and tourism to sustain a future. The “Athletic Center” consists of one lined basketball court they hope to enclose and add seats in the future.  Visitors cannot stay and become residents of the Galapagos Islands. Researchers are granted a maximum of a two-year visa.

 “It was really educational,” said Quinones. “That private school was amazing to me to see people in that situation with the foresight to plan for the future of their children.”

Wall of photos at Sycamore High School is one way Quinones brought the Galapagos Islands back to her students (Photo by Chuck Gibson)

Swimming with Penguins was a huge highlight for Quinones on the expedition (Photo by Beth Quinones)

Quinones goal is to bring the experience home to the children in her classroom and beyond. She was the I-Naturalist leader for the Galapagos expedition meaning she was responsible to get the photos. The Grosvenor Fellow is a two-year commitment. First came the expedition, taking a leadership role for year two follows.

 “These people inspire me,” Quinones said. “It’s not we can’t, it’s why can’t we do this? We can do this.”

Quinones captured this image of a “playful Ses Lion”while snorkeling (Photo by Beth Quinones)

Quinones is working to create a student exchange program to bring them here and send students there. She is working on lesson plans for her students; trying to figure out how to condense her experience to share in the most meaningful way. A photo collage she hung in the school hallway has created meaningful dialogue with Sycamore High School students already. If nothing else, she hopes the kids learn two life lessons from her expedition experience.

 “You have to take risks. I never thought I’d be chosen,” she said. “Be open to the world. Take everything as a learning experience. Lastly I hope my students find their own voice and feel comfortable telling their own stories.”

Join Beth Quinones as she shares the story of her Nat Geo Endeavor II expedition to the Galapagos Islands in November 2019.

Armchair Explorers’ Society: Mariemont Branch – Cincinnati Public Library, Monday, March 09, 2020,

6:30 PM – 7:45 PM