Evansville students bond with Panamanians

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Ashley McCallum
Saturday, October 21, 2017

EVANSVILLEOne of Betsy Stalder's favorite memories is watching her students play soccer in the sun for hours.

Stalder didn't watch from the windows of Evansville High School. She witnessed the scene in Panama, where her students donated soccer balls and played games with the indigenous Emberá people.

The Americans and Panamanians shared a language barrier, but they were able to understand each other through the sport, Stalder said.

Evansville High School's relationship with people in Panama dates to 1988, when retired social studies teacher Butch Beedle noticed an interest in rainforest conservation among his students.

In 2000, Beedle took his first group of students to Panama, and the school has hosted regular trips since then.

The relationship has been fruitful in other ways. On Oct. 27-29, Evansville students will help support rainforest preservation by manning an informational booth and ushering at performances of “The Donation,” a play written by Save the Rainforest co-founder Bruce Calhoun of Dodgeville.

Save the Rainforest is an international nonprofit run by educators who believe in protecting tropical rainforests.

The play, which will be performed at the Verona High School Performing Arts Center, will raise money for Green Rainforest, another nonprofit geared toward rainforest and wildlife conservation.

Alvaro Perez, co-founder of Green Rainforest, was the Evansville students' guide during their 2004 and 2006 trips. He and Beedle have maintained a close relationship that keeps students involved with rainforest conservation from Evansville.

“I was very impressed by the commitment and passion that Evansville students had for preserving nature and the outdoors,” Perez said.

Perez will make his third trip to Wisconsin for the play. He also will speak to schools, universities and environmental agencies about deforestation and endangered species in Panama.

The relationship between Evansville and Panama has benefited both the students and indigenous people, Stalder said.

Students bring soccer balls and school supplies with them on their trips to Panama, Stalder said. And as they travel, the students grow more globally competent and aware of other cultures.

Stalder and fellow high school teacher Dee Jay Redders took over chaperoning the Panama field trips after Beedle retired about five years ago.

“I try to tell the kids, 'We're more alike than different,'” Beedle said.

He estimates almost 200 students have traveled to Panama. Those who go take a class and receive science credits for participating.

Evansville students are “huge supporters” of Save the Rainforest and Green Rainforest, Stalder said, and one Panamanian tour guide always asks to work specifically with them.

“The passion, drive and energy the students have shown have made me want to do more, such as creating this platform for helping the amazing and endangered environment called the rainforest,” Perez said.

One of Beedle's former students, now 30 years old, still has the deed to the acre of rainforest the school bought long ago, Beedle said.

“There's just been this connection to things like that,” he said. “When we go down there, the people tell us the Evansville groups are eager and receptive to learn, and they enjoy those groups.”

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