Stacey Snyder calls herself an explorer. That’s not an official title and neither is it a social status.
Rather, it is a state of mind and spirit for the Tripoli native.
Today, literally, the trueness of Stacey’s exploratory streak will be tested like it never has before.
The Talented and Gifted teacher at Orange and Lowell elementaries in Waterloo will travel 7,344 miles from her home in Tripoli to the Antarctic Circle as part of the National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Program, a professional development opportunity created to honor Gilbert M. Grosvenor, the chairman emeritus of the National Geographic Society.
Launched by Sven-Olof Lindblad, the son of renowned explorer Lars-Eric Lindblad and CEO of Lindblad Expeditions, the initiative is an awareness-raising partnership between the National Geographic Society and Lindblad Expeditions, intended to provide impactful experiences for K-12 teachers and a lesson to be shared with their students.
This life-changing mission of the program could not be closer to Stacey’s heart. In the nine months since she learned she had been accepted in the program —one of only two Iowa teachers since the program’s inception in 2007 — she has involved her students in the planning of her trip.
Her fourth-graders, for instance, were tasked with determining exactly how many miles she would travel from Nov. 27, when her trip starts, to Dec. 10, when she returns home.
The class could not find the answer by googling it, so they did their own arithmetic and geography calculations. Tripoli, Iowa, they found out, lies at 42 degrees north latitude and the Antarctic Circle at 66 degrees south latitude. To get the distance in miles, the students added the two numbers and multiplied by 68, the approximate measurement for miles per each degree.
That’s how they arrived at 7,344 miles.
Bringing together knowledge from various disciplines to solve a practical problem was a confidence-booster for the fourth-graders.
But it was also an awareness-builder of otherness and of presence and of the power of self in exploration.
In essence, it was a spark in what Stacey hopes will be a life-long yearning in her students to embrace curiosity and travel as a way of learning about the world.
To enhance her students’ engagement, on Tuesday, her last day of class, Stacey had them help her with finding the most optimal spots on her backpack where she should attach her four 360-degree cameras.
She bought two through a grant and two are on loan from Iowa State University’s FLEx (Forward Learning Experience) outreach program.
Stacey plans to gather as much visual data as possible and even keep up with writing a video blog she called “The Traveling Teacher” while traveling. She has been warned that because of the remoteness of the locations to which the ship will be traveling, there may not be an internet connection, so she will be focused on capturing as much as she can, and sorting the video out later, perhaps with the help of her students, and Pete Evans, the outreach coordinator for the FLEx program.
Like the life-long student that she really is, Stacey also plans to spend her evenings absorbing the stories, videos and still images that will be shared by the National Geographic photographers and scientists traveling on the same ship while doing their daily work.
So long has the anticipation of the travel been — nine months is a long time for Stacey — that she is ready, ready, ready.
She will first fly out to Dallas, then to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and then, on a chartered flight, she and other team members will travel to the capital of Tierra del Fuego (the Land of Fire) province called Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, also popularly known as “the end of the world.”
There, Stacey and her group will board a ship called The National Geographic Explorer and the real adventure will begin. They will go through the Drake Passage, the body of water that connects South America’s Cape Horn and the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica. For the next six days, they will explore the Antarctic peninsula, before returning home on Dec. 10.
In the meantime, while Stacey is having dinner with the members of her group in Buenos Aires on Thursday, meeting them for the first time in person, her husband, Kenny Leuenberger, will be having Thanksgiving dinner with his mother, Cleota Leuenberger. Stacey’s children, Erica, a toddler development specialist in Tama County, Austin, a sixth-grade health teacher in Mount Pleasant, and Megan, a sixth-grade English teacher in Denver, Iowa, will be celebrating Thanksgiving with their respective families. Everyone had one big meal as an early celebration last week to make up for Stacey’s absence.
Stacey, who holds a master’s degree in science and environmental education from the University of Northern Iowa, as well as a bachelor’s degree in biology from Wartburg College, got interested in travel and nature as a child. The oldest of three daughters in the family of the late Phil and Garnetta Snyder, she enjoyed the annual summer fishing trips her family took at Camp Caviar in Ontario, Canada. Her parents were friends with the late Jim Chandler, the camp’s owner, a Waverly native.
“My sisters and I would get tired of fishing, and we would get in a canoe and explore the shores,” she recalled.
Exploring the edges of Antarctica at 56, with all the life experiences under her belt, is of course not comparable in substance with the childhood memory of scoping out the lakeshores in Ontario.
Decades have gone by since the little Tripoli girl took her sisters on mini canoe trips on the other side of the lake.
In so many ways, Stacey’s life journey has been an extension of the love for nature and learning nurtured in her childhood. Among her many adventures, all aimed at self-improvement, has been a four-year stint as an interpretive naturalist in Pocahontas and Johnson counties in the early 1990s, as well as teaching in area school districts, including Waverly-Shell Rock, and most recently, a two-year interim directorship at St. Paul Lutheran School in Waverly.
She has traveled mostly in the United States, with the exception of a memorable trip, in 1982, when she was one of 12 youths picked to travel through the United Church of Christ to England and Germany. She never forgot what she learned in that journey.
On balance, what has driven Stacey’s engine, and her latest adventure — is her indomitable pursuit of passion.
She hopes her trip will ignite her students’ adventurous spirits.
“This is the most extraordinary adventure I have ever undertaken,” she said. “I would never have dreamed of going to Antarctica. That’s life-changing.”