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Rockwood students shine a spotlight on the rainforest

By: Bonnie Krueger


Three students from Lafayette High in Wildwood shined a light on the endangered rainforest while completing a summative project in Caralyn Harmon’s Spanish III class. 

Students were challenged to come up with a project to raise money and awareness for a choice organization. For students Claire Geurkink, Coleman Hoener and Owen Hueckel, that choice was the local Friends of the Rainforest [FOTR] organization, a nonprofit based in Ballwin that is dedicated to supporting, protecting and conserving the Children’s Eternal Rainforest in Monteverde, Costa Rica.

In addition to recording a radio announcement and creating a television commercial and posters in Spanish, the trio sold 50 Pura Vida bracelets, made in Costa Rica, for $6 each. Pura Vida translates to “pure life” or “simple life.” 

Although the project developed her Spanish skills, Geurkink said she also walked away with a new appreciation of the local organization.

“This is a charity I would love to continue to support because it is a nonprofit and has all good intentions,” she said.

Geurkink plans to study nursing after she graduates high school in the spring of 2020, but said studying Spanish also plays into her future plans.

“I believe this could help with people who come into the hospital, as they have all come with different languages and cultures,” Geurkink said.

Melissa Hoener, development coordinator for FOTR and Coleman’s mother, explained that the mission to protect the rainforest began in 1987 with a Swedish teacher and her second-grade students. 

In 2002, Town & Country residents and conservationists Rachel and Dwight Crandell continued that mission with the founding of Friends of the Rainforest, a sister organization to the internationally recognized Monteverde Conservation League of Costa Rica. The Crandell’s passed away in 2009 and 2008, respectively, but their vision and mission continues.

Today, over 55,000 acres of reserves – known as the Children’s Eternal Rainforest – are protected in the Central American country and are uniquely biodiverse. With less landmass than the state of West Virginia, Costa Rica boasts 5% of the world’s species diversity, with 154 species of amphibians and reptiles, 121 kinds of mammals, 450 bird species, 1 million insect species and 3,000 different kinds of plants, including 800 species of trees and 500 types of orchids.

One of the specific missions of FOTR is to protect the three-toed sloth. According to FOTR, sloths thrive in their natural habitat, living up to 30 years, but often die in captivity. Protecting the habitat of this cutest of CER residents means preserving large tracts of undisturbed wilderness.

A three-toed sloth

Additionally, FOTR provides grants to like-minded organizations to support the purchase of endangered habitats; funding for educational programs related to rainforest conservation and environmental issues; scientific research on the reserve’s ecosystems; support for forest protection and operations, including boundary maintenance, wildlife rescue and poaching prevention – all with the help of local residents. 

“We partner with Rockwood School District and attend different events at the Saint Louis Science Center and various Earth Day celebrations,” Hoener explained. “We focus on education and teaching others how to raise charitable funds. [Those] fundraising dollars go toward helping the Children’s Eternal Rainforest build indoor and outdoor field stations and fund [its] eco-tour program.”

The tour program allows individuals to travel to Costa Rica with Dr. Jeff Norris, the owner and operator of Natural Solutions – Costa Rica, an environmental education and ecotourism company. Coleman traveled to Costa Rica with his mother for the first time in late May. He described the trip as “an exciting time to share this experience,” while also expanding on what he learned through the Spanish class project.

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