Following my meeting with the Pilcopata school director I promptly began working on my presentation for the elementary school that was going to take place the following day. Shortly after starting to create a PowerPoint with pictures and some talking points I ran into a problem. I had no idea if the kids I would be talking to knew anything about frogs, biology, or if they could even read! After thinking this through for a few minutes I decided to keep words on my presentation to a minimum and assume zero base knowledge of amphibians. This turned out to be a pretty good assumption.
At 9am the next morning I rode to the school in the bed of the Villa Carmen pickup truck with four other volunteers. In my backpack I had my laptop and two sheets of notes. In my hand I carried a large plastic bag filled with smaller plastic bags, each containing a frog or tadpole. At this point I had absolutely no clue what to expect besides that if worst came to worst, I could always just pass out the frogs and hope I got a few back alive. Fortunately it never came to that.
The first class on the schedule that day was 4th grade. As I was getting ready to start, the third grade class from next door all filed into the back of the classroom carrying their chairs. Apparently their teacher heard what was going on and did not want to miss out. The combined elementary and high school had one projector for all of the classes. Having this resource available made presenting to a group of kids much easier. Even though I was quite nervous before starting my talk, the entire class was fascinated by the pictures I was showing them. As I had expected, almost none of these kids had actually seen any of the frogs in my presentation. It seemed a bit sad to me that such amazing animals lived literally right outside these kids’ houses and they were completely unaware of them. I am hoping that they will all listen to frog calls a bit more closely now and will stop and look when they see something small hopping across a street at night. When I started passing out the frogs the classroom quickly turned to mild chaos. Most of the kids were eagerly waiting for the frogs to get passed in their direction, though I did see one girl make a hasty retreat to the back corner of the room.
This first presentation went much smoother than I would have ever expected. The only exception was while I was talking about what frogs eat, everyone in the class, including the professor, began smiling and chuckling to themselves. As I later found out, the dictionary translation of the word worm, gusano, can have a different meaning when talking about reproduction… Needless to say I changed the translation for all future presentations.
My second presentation of the day also went smoothly and, after many, many questions, I headed back to Villa Carmen to work on my presentation for the high school the next day. That evening a group of five students from the high school came out to the station looking for “the frog guy”. These students had a project about the importance of frogs that they were going to be presenting at a science fair the next day and heard from the younger students that someone at Villa Carmen knew a lot about frogs. I answered their questions as best as I could and then took them out to a pond to search for some live frogs that they could show off. We ended up catching nearly 15 in half an hour and the group was very happy as they walked away with several bags full of frogs.
At eight in the morning the next day I made my first presentation to a high school class. I had expanded my talk from the previous day to include some threats to frog diversity and a brief overview of my research. I gave four talks in total that morning, each a bit over 30 minutes. I left the school exhausted but grateful for the opportunity and hopeful after seeing that many of the students seemed genuinely interested in the frogs of Peru!
check out more pictures from my time at the school here: https://goneherping.wordpress.com/villa-carmen/