Wednesday 2 Jan, 2008

Greetings from … Antarctica?

Our post a couple of weeks ago about Antarctica reminded me of a story from one of EF’s great group leaders, Greg Holmes.

Greg, who teaches calculus at Granite Bay High School in California, showed me the ropes last year at Paris Orientation. (The highlight was our impromptu lunch on a bench in Versailles.) Greg, who takes a huge group of seniors to Europe every year, has a ton of great tales about his travels. His Antarctica story, though, is about his classroom. I asked him to tell it one more time:

The story begins with my “Postcard Wall,” which inadvertently leads to my son going on an expedition to Antarctica.

It all started in 1984 when one of my students sent a postcard from her
college in Santa Barbara back to me and my students’ high school class
to say hi and relay some insights into the college experience. I put it
on the wall for them to read, and one of the students asked if I would
also post a card if they sent one to me. I said, “Of course,” and one
thing led to another. A couple of thousand postcards later, the wall
was beginning to fill up.

When asked what I would do when the wall was full, I joked that I would
have to retire. I then realized that it would fill up before I would be
ready so I added the disclaimer, “but not before I get at least one
postcard from every continent.” Most saw through my trick and figured,
like I did, that I was safe from ever getting a postcard from

One young man in that class filed that away and a few years later, as
an undergraduate in marine biology, was applying for a field work
expedition to Antarctica with stops at Palmer Station and Rothera
Station. When it was pretty well decided that he had the job, he was
asked if he had any questions of the interviewers. He sheepishly asked
only one: “Are there any postcards that I could buy and send from
anywhere on the trip?” When he explained his reason, all of the panel
had a good laugh and invited him on the cruise. That young man is my
son and I received several postcards from him on his journey.

I like to think that that postcard wall has led to many adventures over
the years. Not too many calculus classes greet students with a wall of
postcards from all over the world and a poster that challenges them
with “How big is your fishbowl?”

I love that story—and Greg’s Postcard Wall. Luckily for the students at Granite Bay, Greg decided not to retire prematurely after receiving the postcards from Antarctica. (He must have claimed the son exception.) Fortunately, he’s still teaching—and traveling. And he keeps expanding his students’ fishbowls every day.