Waimanalo teacher chosen for National Geographic expedition to the Arctic

Blade Shepherd-Jones reflects on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

Born and raised in Kailua, Blade Shepherd-Jones is an avid scuba diver and underwater photographer.

But he's never seen snow.

That could change when the Waimanalo Elementary and Intermediate School teacher travels to a Norwegian archipelago midway between Norway and the North Pole.

Shepherd-Jones is among 45 educators from the United States and Canada who were chosen out of hundreds of applicants as this year's Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellows.

The group, the largest ever selected in the program’s 13-year history, will embark on various global expeditions on Lindblad Expedition ships to enhance their geographic knowledge with hands-on, field-based experiences that they can bring back to their classrooms.

In June, Shepherd-Jones will board the National Geographic Explorer on a journey to Svalbard, where he will work with Lindblad-National Geographic experts to study and document Arctic wildlife, geology and culture.

He calls it a "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity.

“I feel very fortunate," he said. "My goal is to connect Svalbard, a group of islands in the middle of nowhere, to Hawaii, also made up of islands in the middle of nowhere, and compare and contrast their differences. I look forward to bringing back my experiences and what I’ve learned to my students, demystifying the Arctic region to them and showing how interconnected we really are.”

Before he could apply for the Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship, Shepherd-Jones had to complete National Geographic Educator Certification, a no-cost professional development program for educators committed to inspiring the next generation of scientists, explorers, educators and storytellers.

"I don’t want to be stagnant as a teacher," said Shepherd-Jones, who teaches sixth- and eighth-grade science. "I’m always looking for new opportunities to make my teaching better or more relevant, and this is a great way to get fresh ideas."

Shepherd-Jones also appreciates how the program has connected him with educators from across the globe.

In April, he and other fellows took part in a multiday, hands-on, pre-expedition workshop at National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D.C. that covered photography, video editing, outreach planning and public speaking.

"It’s a huge brain think tank I’m playing with right now,” he said. "I’m going to be with two other teachers (on the expedition to Svalbard; one from Pennsylvania and another who teaches on a military base in Japan), and we're already collaborating on ideas to bring our classrooms together."

Follow Shepherd-Jones' journey on Instagram @21abovetheequator and National Geographic's Education Blog. If you're interested in pursuing similar opportunities, Shepherd-Jones recommends starting with National Geographic Educator Certification. View his capstone project on the hazards of marine debris here.