A Pre-Kindergarten - Grade 12 co-educational independent day school in Westchester County, New York

Traveling Minds: Iceland

Eighteen students, rising eleventh and twelfth graders, visited Iceland, experiencing the surreal landscapes and unique culture of the Nordic island. They were accompanied by Director of Sustainability Kerry Linderoth, MS Science Teacher Amanda Sackey, and US Humanities teacher Johnny Flynn. RCDS partnered with Atlas Workshops to provide this opportunity to study Iceland’s approach to confronting global warming and its varied sources of renewable energy.

Trip highlights included visiting the continental divide at Þingvellir national park, geysers, icebergs, and numerous waterfalls, as well as learning about Iceland’s resource-driven alternative energy economy.  Students also visited hot springs, including one that has been converted into a natural oven for making traditional lava bread, and Hellisheiði, a geothermal power plant located above the clouds.

During the week-long trip, student’s ventured from the capital city of Reykjavik to inland and coastal towns. They observed and learned about volcanic rocks, hiked Kerid Crater, and visited a sustainable dairy farm and a geothermal tomato farm. They even experienced the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa located in a lava field near Grindavík and in front of Mount Þorbjörn on Reykjanes Peninsula.

Waterfalls visited included Gullfoss, which drops 26,000 gallons of water per second, Seljalandsfoss and its family of five waterfalls, the geometric basalt waterfall Vatnajökulsþyoðgarður, and Skógafoss, Iceland’s largest waterfall. The group also saw the original Geysir site, where the smaller geysir, Strokkur, erupts every four minutes. At the Ljósafossstöð hydropower plant, the students delved further into the topic of renewable energy through an interactive museum exhibit.

A special focus of the trip was climate change, and students were able to observe its impacts firsthand. They attended a talk by climate activist and author Andri Magnason, which inspired them to be environmental stewards who recognize the power they have to leave behind a healthy planet. They also heard from climate activist Hildur Knutsdottir who discussed the intersection of climate change and politics.

At Breiðamerkursandur, or Diamond Beach, students witnessed global warming up close in the form of floating icebergs washing ashore. At the glacier lagoon, where the group ventured up 30 flights on a pulchritudinous glacier, they also saw small icebergs float out to sea, a bittersweet sight.These sights helped students understand and visualize the rapid pace at which the glaciers are melting. 

In their travel log, one student wrote, “After this inspirational trek, we debriefed and then discussed the impact of climate change and our roles in shaping the future of the glaciers but also our own.”

The trip also gave students a glimpse into Icelandic culture, family heritage traditions, food, flora, and fauna. Seeing the intersection between the people and environment of Iceland increased the students' appreciation for the way local efforts toward conservation impact the local environment and the world.

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