Back from the Bottom of the World: Woodgrove’s Addie Schafer Shares Her Antarctic Adventure

Addie Schafer is on a mission to hit all seven continents before she turns 30. The Woodgrove High School drama teacher checked off a big one last month when she took a two-week trip to Antarctica through National Geographic’s Grosvenor Teacher Fellows program.

Now Schafer is finding ways to share her experience with her students, colleagues and the community at large.

The Grosvenor fellowship was launched by the National Geographic Society and the high-adventure tourism company Lindblad Expeditions to “help ensure that the next generation is armed with geographic knowledge and global awareness” by sending teachers to some of the coolest places on earth. The program sent45 fellows to exotic destinations in 2019, giving them an opportunity to work with researchers and world-class journalists.

“They tell you this is going to change your life, naturally,” Schafer said. “You’re going to see things and experience things that you’ve never done before—the way that you’re embracing the world around you and the information you get from the naturalists and the researchers.”

Schafer joined Woodgrove’s staff as a drama/English teacher and theater director last fall after three years as a third-grade teacher at Hillsboro Charter Academy. As an elementary school teacher, she earned her educator certification throughNational Geographic’sprofessional development program and applied for the fellowship program, which included two years of prep work and training, including working withNational Geographicphotographers and videographers to learn how to document the experience effectively. The program offers a list of exciting destinations, but for Schafer, Antarctica was at the top of the list.

“Antarctica is extremely remote and hard to get to,” she said. “I thought it would be a unique experience to see something I would probably never get to see again—really a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Woodgrove High School drama teacher Addie (center) spent 12 days on a Lindblad Expeditions trip to Antarctica.

The program divides teachers into small groups of two or three and sends them out on a ship with researchers, photographers and Lindblad’s paying guests. Schafer was teamed up with another teaching fellow from a Chicago-area middle school.

“There are so many moments where the other teacher and I were like, “Wow, we really are here. We’re in Antarctica. It hit us in different waves of actually being in this pristine place,” Schafer said. “You look around at 360 degrees of glaciers and beautiful scenery. That was just breathtaking.”

Schafer’s 12-day trip, which took place over the school division’s winter break, was scheduled during Southern Hemisphere summer around the summer solstice Dec. 22, so participants experienced round-the-clock daylight. Schafer flew to Buenos Aires and then toUshuaia in Argentina’s southernmost Tierra del Fuego region.For Schafer, the trip, which included several excursions on Lindblad’s small Zodiac watercraft, was packed with unforgettable experiences. She worked with researchers, photographers and videographers and encountered orcas, whales, seals and lots of penguins.

Schafer and her fellow travelers celebrated Christmas with a polar plunge into 29-degree water. The following day, her expedition sighted the A-68 iceberg, one of the largest icebergs ever recorded, which broke away from the continent in 2017. Schafer was also part of the first group of humans to visit the Madder Cliffs, on Antarctica’s northeastern tip, known for a colony of Adelie penguins.

Seeing Antarctica’s four penguin species up close was one of the highlights of the trip for Schafer, whose fascination with penguins developed during life science units with her third-grade classes.

“The more I read about them, the more I craved seeing them in their colonies and how humanly they can act sometimes. … Because of the international [Antarctic] treaty, it’s basically an untouched scientific live museum.”

Penguins have also become a big part of her commitment to bringing the trip home to her students. Schafer says her students are inspired by different parts of her experience, but pretty much everyone loves penguins. Schafer is conducting a skill-building workshop with her musical theater class at Woodgrove, where students are creating original works inspired by Antarctica through Schafer’s stories and images. The project involves research on geography, wildlife and climate change and will be the basis for a two-day performing arts showcase this spring. Schafer’s freshman English class has also used her presentation as the basis for a research unit.

Visiting penguin colonies was a highlight of the trip for Schafer and a great hook to engage her students. Her colleague Tracy Crowley caught this shot of an Emperor Penguin.
Credit: Tracy Crowley

For Schafer, who was an elementary school teacher when she applied for the fellowship, bringing the material to her high school English and performing arts students has been unexpectedly fruitful. Schafer said she was initially concerned her new job might not mesh withNational Geographic’svision, but found that the organization welcomes globally minded teachers in any field and embraces teachers in the arts.

“They said any subject can work, and that’s why we’re trying to get all educators to get certified and apply to this program,” Schafer said.

Schafer grew up in Ashburn and was part of one of the first graduating classes at Briar Woods High School, where she was heavily involved in the drama program. She considered a career onstage, but her connection with children led her to teaching.

“I’ve always had a heart for kids, and I’ve always loved the way they think about the world. They have this open mind. … They’re very creative and my creative mind has been able to relate to that,” she said.

Travel is another of her passions, and Schafer earned a grant to work as an English Teaching Assistant in Malaysia through the Fulbright program in 2015. But life brought her back to Loudoun. Schafer was hired to teach third grade at the Hillsboro Charter Academy, Loudoun’s second public charter school, in its opening year in 2016.

“I wasn’t sure I would be coming back here but I’m really glad I did,” she said.

But secondary education has always held her interest, and when the Woodgrove drama department position opened up, Schafer followed her desire to specialize in a field she’s passionate about.

“[Theater] started a fire in me as a high schooler and a young person, and I wanted to do the same for kids in Loudoun.”

Schafer, who turns 29 later this month, now only has Australia/Oceania and Africa left on her list.

“I think travel will continue to inform my teaching,” she said. “There are always stories to tell in different parts of the world and until you go there, how can you accurately portray something you don’t know? The more I travel, the more I can try to tell these stories from different perspectives and different places.”

Schafer is planning to return to the Hillsboro Charter Academy this semester to do a presentation and work with students in line with their life sciences curriculum and is also working on a TED-like talk for the Loudoun community. She’s also working to turn her Antarctica-inspired musical theater showcase into an annual Theater for a Cause event. This year’s production is scheduled for May 1 and 2 at Woodgrove.

“I think theater can be a powerful storytelling tool. We’ll take issues or important topics in the community or in the world and create an artistic piece and share this with our community,” she said. “It may be easier to broach topics that are harder to have in conversation and bring awareness to certain things.”

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