Six student explorers and two faculty members from Marvelwood School in Kent left Jan. 22 for 10 days in Panama.

Local students participating in the trip include Maddie Paddock of Lakeville, Olivia Pignataro of Carmel, N.Y., and Oliver Sanchez of Amenia, N.Y.

The trip is a combination of scientific research, community outreach, and international exploration.

Science Department Chair Laurie Doss has led the trip to Panama and the Cocobolo Nature Reserve over 15 times.

Assistant Head of School Caitlin Lynch is on her fifth trip, and Oliver Sanchez is on his second trip.

Over the years, Marvelwood students have contributed to the discovery of 380 avian species at Cocobolo, making the Reserve the 14th rated hotspot out of 100 known hotspots for avian diversity in the country of Panama.

This year, the group is bringing a hydrophone, on loan from Cornell University, which they will use for underwater recordings of fish and amphibians.

Students will work with top researchers and experts in their fields including Abel Batista, who is one of the leading herpetologists in Panama and Central America.

A highlight of the trip will be a day spent with children of the village of La Zahina, a half-day’s walk from Cocobolo.

The village is home to about 30 families who live off the grid, with very little means to support themselves.

Petra is the school’s long-time teacher who works hard to get what she can for her students through a complicated state-system.

Over the years, Laurie Doss and Petra have worked together to create programs for their students to interact with each other during our visits.

Some of the memorable activities have included tie-dying, bird identification, and puzzle competitions. Long-term programs have included CLICK (Communities Linking Internationally to Raise Conservation Awareness in Kids) in which cameras were given to the children of La Zahina, many of whom never venture into the nearby rainforest, and tasked with exploring their area and photo-documenting their discoveries.

Four years later, the children are still using some of the cameras and eagerly show their work to Doss and the students who are equally excited to share their enthusiasm.