Chandler teacher studying Mexican ecosystem - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler teacher studying Mexican ecosystem

July 18th, 2019 development
Chandler teacher studying Mexican ecosystem

Staff Writer

While her students are on summer vacation, Banner Academy science teacher Sue Cullumber will take an educational holiday.

The Chandler woman is an Earthwatch Institute fellow who is traveling next week to San Gregorio and Xochimilco, Mexico, with a team of scientists and other teachers to recover endangered ecosystems and canals affected by pollution.

The Earthwatch Institute is a non-profit that connects curious individuals to scientists and resources that allow them to explore solutions to urgent environmental issues.

Typically, trips cost thousands of dollars, but as a chosen fellow, Cullumber will go on the journey for free.

Throughout the expedition Cullumber will work with teachers to help them create lesson plans to translate what they learned in the field to their students in the classroom.

The teachers that will attend Cullumber’s lesson plan seminars will come from various spots across the nation including California, Massachusetts and Maryland.

“Of course, we want to make strides in the right direction sustainability while we’re there, but a large portion of what we’re doing is collecting information to share with our students so the next generation will have a leg up on how to deal with some of the planet’s most pressing issues,” Cullumber said.

Though she still has yet to complete the expedition, Cullumber said, she is already planning a park cleanup to expand her students’ knowledge of the importance of caring for the Earth’s ecosystems.

“One thing I hope [the students] learn is how their community is connected to the world and how they can make a difference within it by doing small things in their daily lives – like recycling [and] cleaning up parks,” Cullumber said.

The teacher added that in today’s “throwaway” society, she believes by passing on examples of what can happen when a person’s obligation to care for the planet is forgotten she can play a role in her student’s understanding how to care for their communities.

“If kids can start thinking about those things and connecting to the impact that they can have now they can pass that on and maybe we won’t have so much waste in the future,” Cullumber said.

During her time in Mexico, Cullumber, a middle school and high school science teacher, will investigate and apply modern solutions to historic problems for the region.

San Gregorio and Xochimilco are situated just south of Mexico City, once contributing to the five lakes that covered Mexico Valley. During the time of Aztec settlement in the area, people created Chinampas, which are man-made islands developed within the lake and used for agricultural purposes.

Over time, the lakes’ water has been repurposed and today only 2 percent of the water remains, hurting agriculture on the islands and damaging surrounding ecosystems.

The residual water, Cullumber said, is riddled with pesticides and has seen an increase in nutrients that have led to invasive species and poses a risk of harmful agricultural runoff.

“Because of all these factors, the water is not only damaging their crop production but the local ecosystems that depend on the water are also suffering,” Cullumber said, adding:

“They’ve been working on this research for 10 years so it is a huge deal to work with these scientists and see how we can transform what we learn into lessons for our students.”

Cullumber has been trusted to administer lessons to teachers because of her history working with Earthwatch and her extensive history of past sustainability-related expeditions.

In 2008, she went to the Galapagos Islands with the Toyota International Teacher Program to work with teachers on using sustainable practices and creating lessons on sustainability.

Fast-forward to 2010 and Cullumber was on her first Earthwatch expedition, where she took a two-week trip with the organization to Nova Scotia to study how animal populations were being affected by climate change through small mammal trapping and examination of scat.

In 2012, Cullumber went to Japan on a teacher exchange program through Fulbright, where she worked on sustainable education with Japanese teachers who also came to the United States. The teachers exchanged cultural experiences with each other and the students.

Just a year later, she boarded the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ship for three weeks and set sail to the Atlantic Ocean.

While aboard, she monitored the health of the ocean’s ecosystem by studying plankton.

“I think I’ve done so many trips and expeditions because of the amazing people and teachers and scientists you meet. You get full access to their knowledge and tools and that is really priceless,” Cullumber said.

“To be able to bring so much global knowledge back to our kids right here in Arizona, I mean it truly is an amazing experience for everyone affected by this research,” she added.

Cullumber said herself and fellow teachers on the Earthwatch expedition to Mexico will be posting their daily activity to a blog, which can be found at

Posts will be updated during the trip, from July 21 to July 27.