Break out the Grand Canyon Sorting Hat!

Rafters ponder their fate at Lava FallsRafters ponder their doom before rafting Lava Falls

Last Monday, we reached the deadline for applications for the first ever NCSE Grand Canyon teacher scholarship. For the 141 applicants(!), this is the end of the hard part, but for those of us making the selection, it’s the start of a really difficult process. Not knowing what response we’d get, we only held open a few spots on the annual raft trip for the teachers, so we’ll have to make some tough choices. The teachers we pick will spend 8 days with me, policy director (and geologist) Steve Newton, and various NCSE members and friends. Others will sadly have to wait for a future year. (We hope to make this an annual tradition, and even expand it, though that depends on what sorts of donations we get to the scholarship fund).

We’re still getting to know the applicants, but so far it looks like a truly stellar bunch, one that reflects the best of American education. Picking just a few of those teachers will be tough, but it’s a joy to be able to do something nice for this incredible group.


Applications came from science teachers all over the country (zoom in in the map above to see a bit more detail on where they came from, though you won’t be able to zoom close enough to recognize anyone’s house). It looks like a quarter of the applicants are men (almost exactly matching the national teacher sex ratio). Roughly equal numbers said they taught high school and middle school, with about half as many teaching elementary school. I expected there to be a lot more high school teachers than middle school, so that’s a surprise.

Many of the teachers identified themselves as serving in urban schools, or schools with large minority or low-income communities. These teachers’ students probably have limited access to the natural world, let alone chances to visit Grand Canyon, and especially not the time or funds to raft it and see the geology up close. Giving those teachers a chance to bring back stories, pictures, and lessons from the Canyon could be valuable for reasons far beyond the lessons in geology, natural history, and evolution that every NCSE rafter comes away with.

Teachers who applied sent us resumes, lesson plans, descriptions of their schools and communities, two essays about how this trip would help them, and how they deal with topics like evolution and climate change in their classrooms (and how they defuse conflicts). It’s a lot to sort through, but I can’t wait to tell you about the winners once we’ve made a choice.

Meanwhile, if you want to help, you can donate to the scholarship fund right now. Like any donation to NCSE, your donation would be tax-deductible, but these donations are earmarked to be used for this scholarship only (which will cover the cost of the ticket, airfare, and other necessary travel expenses for the teachers). That means that the more you donate, the more teachers we can take in future years. By our calculations, it’ll cost us about $17 per teacher per mile—an amount that should be within reach of anyone who wants to do these grand teachers a grand favor.

Condors soar around Navajo BridgesCondors soar over the Colorado River at Navajo Bridges.

And if you want to help a teacher go further down river, well, we’ve got options. $70 covers the cost of rafting a teacher downriver to the historic Navajo Bridges, where we watched 5 condors soar over the rafts last year. $187 gets the teacher through the first big rapids. $470 covers one of the teacher’s 8 days on the river. To get a teacher to Phantom Ranch—the halfway mark (and the only shot at a flush toilet)—will cost about $1,460. We estimate the total cost per teacher (including airfare, hotel, and other expenses) will stand around $3,760.

We’ve already raised enough for the first teacher, thanks to generous donations from past rafters (and people who saw me tweeting about this). But there are still 225 miles that we need to get another teacher through, and hopefully more teachers beyond that. So click this link and donate!.