Gallagher’s ‘Argonauts’ ready to pass the torch to next pair

Gallagher’s ‘Argonauts’ ready to pass the torch to next pair

Gallagher Middle School 8th-grader Abigail Marsella, 13, uses an instrument to “suck” ants from a tree in the Amazon canopy in Peru.

SMITHFIELD – After investigating insects in the rainforest canopy of the Amazon in Peru, a Gallagher Middle School teacher and student are encouraging students and teachers to apply for the next round of JASON Learning expeditions.

Science teacher Jane Ramos and student Abigail Marsella returned to Gallagher after one week of investigating the insects of the Amazon, conducting experiments and exploring the area of Iquitos, Peru.

The pair shared with the student body their experience walking 117 feet above the rainforest floor to investigate species of ants, boating on nearby rivers to witness the “super rare” pink river dolphin, and using local fruit to attract butterflies.

The Smithfield School Department paired with JASON Learning to provide science curriculum to Gallagher students. Included in the deal was Gallagher’s participation in the annual “Argonaut” program. Each year, JASON sends teachers and students from schools across the country on one of five or six science exploration expeditions.

Despite the humid, intense heat and lack of air conditioning, the pair said the trip was a “chance of the lifetime,” and they hope the next generation of Gallagher “Argonauts” will continue to explore with JASON.

“We’ll forever be Argonauts,” Ramos said.

Ramos said she strongly encourages students to apply on to participate in next year’s expedition. Ramos and Abigail joined five other teacher-student teams in the Amazon to work with the Bug Chicks, a pair of women entomologists studying insects in the Amazon.

Marsella said she was initially wary of feeling a massive tarantula crawl on her hands, and said she was last to volunteer to eat termites taken straight off the bark of a tree.

“I said, I’m here, I’m going to do it. They tasted like mint to me; others said lettuce,” Marsella said.

By the end, she said she appreciated the beauty and science behind the insects making up the Amazon habitat.

The trip inspired Marsella to continue her education in science, and eventually, she said she would like to work in a scientific field, though she is still focused on Engineering.

Ramos said during the trip, she watched as Marsella and the five other female students joined in the expedition transformed from being shy and cautious to “empowered young women.”

In short, “We became bug dorks,” Ramos laughed.

“I watched as the girls got over the fear of bugs and recognized their value,” Ramos said.

The pair split on different “inquiries” during the trip, with Ramos studying which fruits attracted butterflies the best. The group found that rainforest butterflies weren’t attracted to the fruits, but rather the sweat-soaked T-shirts hung out to dry.

Ramos said the group deduced that the butterflies preferred the more unique salt resource due to the abundance of fruit in the rainforest.

“I like watching the inquiry science of asking interesting questions and using science to find the answers. I want to apply that to the classroom,” Ramos said.

Marsella was interested in the species of ants living on top of the rainforest canopy, and helped collect specimens to compare with those at ground level.

“We picked a question and we actually got to do stuff to find the answers,” Marsella said.

Both 8th-grader Abigail Marsella and science teacher Jane Ramos, of Gallagher Middle School, said the best part of the JASON Learning expedition to the Amazon was walking on the canopy walk-way, which was 117 feet above the ground.