Saturday, April 22, 2017




       This has been an extraordinary year in support of all environmental causes. This year, a March for Science is also being done in conjunction to bring awareness for scientific freedom. Science has shown us that climate change is here and now.

       So, while climate change continues to be on the news front of our lives, we are seeing more of a devastating effect on our water, food supplies, and air quality. 

      This year, for Earth Day and every day, let's forge on by doing our part to combat climate change and getting involved in our communities. Now is the time to inform others, continue doing our part and keep on leading by example.

      Remember to:
        *Eat less meat.
        *Reduce energy consumption.
        *Begin composting.
        *Stop using plastic.
        *Plant more trees or contribute to planting more trees.
        *Buy local produce.
        *Grow your own food.
        *Live simply and produce less waste.

         ( )

Saturday, February 11, 2017



            In our continuing venture with the San Jose Jesuit School and Mr. Mariano Parra Diaz, our students have increased their knowledge of cultural and historical facts and its applications to other areas of study.
During their involvement, the students also formed friendships. Additionally, the project has also made them aware that learning about Extremadura has exposed them to different cultures and their heritage. By expanding the learning to another country, the students have become global citizens; their lives have transcended geography and borders.

            One part of the project being done this year with my seventh grade students is learning of Spain’s History, through collaborations with Mr. Parra Diaz and Mr. Francisco Jose Morales. Mr. Morales’s students in Spain have created wonderful virtual magazines that highlight historical Spanish events in English. It has created a window for my students to recognize world history learning that is under way at the Jesuit school. Likewise, my students have and are developing power point presentations to the Spanish students about Texas history. The first power point we sent was about the Aztecs.

            Another endeavor, The Orchard Project, is where we are learning about Pershing’s Organic Garden and The Jesuit Garden. Mr. Coursey is Pershing’s garden and sixth grade Social Studies teacher that has operated the garden for about 10 years. Since then, Mr. Coursey has planted many varieties of vegetables and fruits. Recent additions to the garden are two fig trees. Other recent trees are lemon and orange trees. We also have many vegetables such as eggplants (aubergines), sweet potatoes, carrots, and several varieties of Kale. Mr. Coursey’s students help plant, harvest and maintain the garden. 

Pershing’s garden uses compost as fertilizer and only soap and water as an insecticide, following organic practices.
Next school year, Mr. Coursey will have the pleasure to teach only gardening as it is an important and popular subject.

              At the Jesuit school, Don Teodoro has run the school’s garden for their elementary school students. Don Teodoro is a retired teacher having taught more than 40 years at San Jose Colegio. He has been teaching gardening the last 10 years. Just as our school, Don Teodoro also has students planting and maintaining the garden. Similarly, Don Teodoro has the students taste the harvested food. 

            In a yearly event, parents help in cooking the vegetables and bring side dishes in culminating the year with a feast. The gardens at the Jesuit school are also extensive and have several trees planted as well as their produce. One tree that was planted and was shown to me while I was there is the Gingko Biloba tree that is an endangered species.


             This year, when we visit their campus in March, we will plant another endangered tree at the Jesuit School: Quercus Suber L. or the cork tree that is native to that area of Spain.

            Putting resources and practices to learn Spanish is an exceptional way my students are building and fostering a more meaningful connection to the language. Inversely, the students at San Jose Jesuit School are also enriching their use of English in non-traditional settings.
            Our students are enriched and exposed to more than just a language; it is a limitless, way of life!





Houston, Texas

Saturday, November 5, 2016


       Lately, some important news in the US, has been about the Standing Sioux Tribe and their protest  that began months ago. The Native peoples are trying to block the Dakota Access Pipeline project that when completed, will transfer crude oil to other major US markets to support domestic demand. Their primary reason for the protest had been foremost that the oil company has ignored consulting with them since it is their land and therefore in clear infringement of their sovereign rights. Their legal team has filed and asserted that these rights were not followed and also that the Tribe was not included as partners in the historical surveying the land.

       One of the important and noteworthy reasons that the Sioux do not want the line to go through their land is because the authorities missed major archeological finds in the path of the pipeline. One discovery is in regards to a large stone that has a feature that depicts Iyokaptan Tanka, or the Big Dipper, which is indicative that a major leader or a highly respected Chief was buried nearby. The Big Dipper are the seven brightest stars that make up the constellation Ursa Major or 'Great Bear'. This sacred site is a significant archeological find in North Dakota that has not happened in many years. It is believed that to find a leader buried in the Big Dipper cup, means the Chief was someone of great importance.

       The other reason the Sioux and other Native Nations are protesting is that the pipeline is in violation of The Clean Water Act. The Sioux allege that the pipeline’s environmental outcome can be detrimental if the pipe ruptures spilling oil and other toxins into their main water source. 

       Native Americans are the first true environmentalists of our country. Even to this day, they protect our Mother Earth. By protecting the water and air, the Native Peoples continue to honor and respect the land they live on. Clean water is important. Water is life!
       The injustices while the native peoples protest, have been recorded daily and witnessed by many in the US and all over the world. The Standing Sioux Tribe has had a large following through social media as the construction of the pipeline continues.

       As the entire world is watching, will the world unite to stop these injustices and halt the construction of the pipeline in that area of North Dakota?
  We can only hope.  

Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Sioux Tribe at the UN in September
       Next week the UN’s Conference of Parties , or COP22 on Climate Change begins in Marrakesh, Marrakech Morocco - November 7-18, 2016. The countries that signed the climate change agreement in Paris will be put to a test. Are they honoring their commitment? The world will be watching.

       As we all know, fossil fuels such as oil harm the environment through locating, moving and by its production. Oil spills harm animals and affect plants, as well as humans. We cannot neglect that oil production and its uses also add toxic emissions into the air.

       Additionally, just in time for the conference is the movie BEFORE THE FLOOD, which may be seen in its entirety for free, in this link from National Geographic:

       The following link shows realtime world environmental data. 
Check it out: Environmental Clock 

R. Aguilar

Friday, September 2, 2016


By: Ellie Plummer and Katherine Willcockson, Feature Writers of
JJP: The Middle (A Publication of Pershing Middle School; Houston, Texas)
Adventure, education, and a colorful history are just a few ways to describe Proyecto Extremadura. Ms. Aguilar has run this amazing program for her middle school students since 2013, and helped to enhance students learning across the world.
One of the largest parts of the project is the annual trip to Spain and the surrounding areas. When visiting these culturally different and diverse neighborhoods, students are enabled to learn in ways that aren’t exhibited in the classroom. Going to places that are studied in textbooks and diving into the history and language can be the critical concept that a student needs.
In each of her Spanish classes, eight graders are given pen pals from a school in Spain (Extremadura). Ms. Aguilar’s students write their letters in Spanish while the opposite group writes in English. Using this method the kids in both America and Spain are able to learn slang, conversation ticks, and many other things that are essential to speaking fluently. Some of the Pandas involved say that they enjoy hearing about the everyday activities of their peers in Spain and even started to genuinely bond with their pen pal.
Not only does this project enhance students’ education, but it also helps to spread environmental awareness. While in Spain, the group of teens and adults from Pershing plants trees to improve the air quality and regrow forests. By doing all the service work that they can, Ms. Aguilar’s groups have spread the word and exhibited a behavior for many to mimic.
“A project of friendship and environmental awareness with history and cultural highlights”: These are the words that Ms. Aguilar uses to describe her phenomenal project. Not only do students get to learn about a different culture, they also get to help the community and experience everyday life.

*Ellie and Katherine are two Spanish students that will soon be writing to their pals this year. Ms. Aguilar

Note: This year, my seventh and eighth grade students will participate in the pen pal project. Students and their parents may visit their pen pals and do a service project in Villafranaca de los Barros, Extremadura, during our Spring-Break tour.
Our customized tour, made possible by Explorica Educational Travel, will include Madrid, Trujuillo, Merida, Villafranca de los Barros, Burguillos del Cerro, Seville and Malaga. Any person interested in participating in our tour may contact me at the email on the Contact page of this blog.

San Jose Jesuit School in Villafranca-Home to our next project.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


        This past July I had the privilege to visit a montado and a cork facility in Coruche, Portugal. This visit was through a joint effort with APCOR and their representative, Ms Mariana Serra. APCOR is the largest cork association of manufacturers in the world - Associação Portuguesa de Cortiça. APCOR is the only Portuguese Cork Association that represents companies that prepare, transform and commercialize cork and products made from cork. APCOR works in partnership with growers and forestry associations as they are closely linked to the environment.            
         Since I was going to be in Portugal during July, I felt that this would be a great opportunity to make a visit and see first-hand how the cork is harvested and cured.
         After Mariana picked me up at the hotel in Lisbon, I was driven to Coruche and to a montado owned by Antonio Mello and generations of his family before him.
         Mr. Mello is not only the owner of the many hectares of his property, but also a steward of his land: protecting and managing it. He mentioned that through the years he has seen the trees change; a change that has been a detriment at times as he noted that climate change is altering the lives of the trees. “They are changing”, he said, and “sometimes, it’s not good". He also explained the various crops growing on his land along with some of the livestock. Pigs, such as the "pata negra" variety are the preferred livestock as their 'Jamón Ibérico' is the best and well known throughout the world and feed on the fallen acorns that give the ham its unique taste. Cattle may also be allowed, but strict guidelines and rules must be followed by the owners to protect the oak trees. Mr. Mello however, prefers not to have cattle in his land in order to avoid more impact on cork quality.
         Antonio Mello was invariably monitoring his land, and at one point picking up a trashed plastic bottle that as he mentioned, could help ignite or give way to flames in a fire if there were to be one. He sees the land before him and tells me, “wind is our enemy” for if there is a fire, they are working against it with the wind.  Forest fires in a cork forest are a serious problem to the environment and the economy. There was a time, about ten years ago, where there were many fires in the montados in a few areas of Portugal. Therefore, avoidance and diligence is of the upmost priority to maintain the forests thriving.

         While cork was being stripped from its tree, Antonio and I watched the descortiçador (debarker), strike the bark with his ax and then remove a piece. The highly-skilled “debarkers” are men, and usually have had generations before them as descortiçadores in their families.  Women however, also work there, as they collect all the cork that is stripped from the trees.
         Cork can only be harvested in dry, warm or hot weather and usually from the end of May through early August whenever there is no rain, cold or medium to strong wind. During the time of harvesting, the cork is more pliable and easier to be removed without harming the tree. All the while, the steward keeping a watchful eye to see that the strikes of the ax do not make any unnecessary cuts to the oak. After the cork is removed from the tree, the tree is then marked with a number, the last numeral of the year it was harvested. For 2016, the tree will be marked with a “6”, thus indicating the wait for another nine years before that tree is harvested again. However, as Antonio pointed out, careful observation through his forests will sometimes determine whether or not to give the trees another year prior to their harvest. The first harvest of cork happens when the tree is around 25 years old. The girth, or circumference of the tree should be 70cm. This measure is multiplied by 2 to determine how high to make the first harvest.  Subsequent harvests are 9-10 years after that, but with only one time the girth of the tree added to the height.

         After the women collect the cork, it is then placed on a truck bed to be transported to a factory.


           The next stop of my visit was the AMORIM factory that produces the natural cork disc components used to create high-end Champagne stoppers and technical stoppers.

         At the factory, I could see all the cork placed on concrete beds that are at an incline. The cork must rest for six months out in the open. If it rains and the cork gets wet, the water is able to drain (hence the incline).
         After the rest period, they are boiled in purified water. Cork has been traditionally boiled for about an hour, where it expands and flattens. After it dries, it can be worked on. 
         Incidentally, only after the third harvest are good quality wine natural stoppers made from cork. Therefore, corks found in bottles of quality wine are 50+ years old! At the factory I visited, the cork is cut into thinner pieces and used to make a disk for champagne stoppers and technical stoppers (1+1).
         After my visit, Mariana invited me to lunch in a wonderful, family owned restaurant where we had a traditional Portuguese meal. Our return to Lisbon was conversation about how the company is promoting the importance of cork, especially for design, building use and other applications. She also mentioned that all pieces of cork are used including cork dust. Nothing is wasted.

At the factory.

         My interest in cork began as a way to teach culture to my students since it is also part of the Spanish economy. I decided when I visited Extremadura, to have my students plant trees indigenous to the area that were part of the culture. On March 2015, we planted cork and olive trees in Burguillos del Cerro, Badajoz.
         Prior to that, I had contacted Realcork and Mariana Serra in 2014 and since then, have learned more about cork and its importance to the Iberian Peninsula and the environment. I knew little but soon started reading literature, blogs, and information on the web. Ms. Serra, also sent me wonderful documents that I read and taught to my students.  We learned about the ecosystem, the natural properties, and the history of Quercus Suber L.
         As noted in another blog entry here, the cork oak forests are one of richest eco-systems in Europe; a valuable sanctuary for endangered species such as the Iberian lynx, black stork and imperial eagle, and home to a type of agroforestry found only in the Portuguese montados and Spanish dehesas. The montados and dehesas are an industry that environmentalist see as an almost rare example of economics and ecology working in harmony.

         I will continue teaching my students about the importance of cork forests, and hope to plant more trees in the coming future in Portugal and Spain.

         I would like the thank the generosity of Ms. Mariana Serra and APCOR for the unforgettable experience about cork and the process involved, but more importantly, her willingness to assist me. 
         I would also like to thank Mr. Antonio Mello, for his knowledge, expertise and impressive management of his land.

 With Mr. Antonio Mello in Coruche, Portugal

With Mariana Serra at "O Choupo" Restaurant.

R. Aguilar