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By Lynn Mellis Worthington
Three different groups of students are venturing off campus this spring to various parts of the world to explore different cultures and along the way discover a number of things about themselves.
The 2015 Czech Group
South Kent School offers a variety of Spring Term trips to students that provide many opportunities. The first of the groups is going to the Czech Republic April 17-26. This is the 12th year the school has participated in this cultural exchange trip and this year it is being led by faculty member Pat Crowley ‘08 and alumnus Bryce Mann ‘16.
“Living in New England you can see that it reminds you of European culture. Over there it is like the real deal,” Mr. Crowley said. “You’ll be on a train going through the country and there will be a castle in the background and they’ll think nothing of it.”
Students traveling to Eastern Europe are seniors Kyle Cafeo, Griffin Cain, David Cheng, Nick Scott and Jacob Smith, as well as fourth former Cale DuBrul and fifth former Shane Pinto. Those interested in going must submit an application months in advance and meet several times with Mr. Crowley.
“They have to be in good academic standing, because they miss 10 days of school, and they’ve got to be model citizens of South Kent,” Mr. Crowley said.
The Czech trip is a blend of educational and cultural experiences.
“The base of the exchange is culture. We try to give them as much American as we can and they give us as much Czech,” Mr. Crowley said.
A portion of their time is spent in the city of Brno, where students from the school Gymnazium Jaroška host the SKS group. While there will be a guide, the Czech students shoulder the majority of the responsibility for explaining and showing things about their city and their country, Mr. Crowley said.
“They give the tour and they explain everything. They also make sure everyone is talking,” Mr. Crowley said. “They do a great job.”
Students interact in the school and work on group projects. During the last trip, students were paired up to research a city in the world that no one from either school was from. “It was designed to see what facts they found important and what facts we found important. It was kind of cool,” Mr. Crowley said.
The 2016 Environmental Science and Ecology Trip to Belize
A group of six science students are traveling to Ecuador and the Galapagos islands with Ms. Emily Carreiro, who teaches Environmental Science and Ecology. They will be gone from April 20-28 and are traveling through a tour organized by EF Tours.
“The Galapagos is the epitome of teaching those subjects,” Ms. Carreiro said. “Particularly for ecology, we talk about evolution and thus we talk about Darwin and he developed his theories of natural selection and evolution in the Galapagos.”
Getting to the islands is not an easy thing to organize. The country places restrictions on who can visit and keeps it tightly regulated, in large part to protect the environment.
“They’re very restrictive and very protective of the ecology of these islands. When you travel there and you explore as a group, it is government mandated that you have a tour guide,” Ms. Carreiro said. She was lucky enough to visit it last year on a family adventure with her mother and her brother. Since then, she’s been using her brother’s exquisite photographs of the wildlife and scenery to supplement her curriculum.
Selection of the students that will go with her is based on whether they are in her classes or are recommended by another teacher. This year’s students are Ernesto Armenteros ‘18, Nicholas Berghold ‘18, Paul Coulibaly ‘18, Peter Curry ‘17, Junhee Han ‘18 and Shuyang Liu ‘18.
“This is an immersive experience in ecological research and understanding of biodiversity,” Ms. Carreiro said. “This is a really good way to broaden their horizons and connect them to the world they’re living in.”
The 2016 Call To Adventure Trip Group
Mr. Patrick Bonis has been taking students on Call to Adventure expeditions since 2010 and has enjoyed seeing the boys challenge themselves to go beyond what they thought was possible. His trip will involve visiting Mount Elbert in Colorado and hitting altitudes over 14,000 feet, as well as visiting the Arches National Park in Utah and seeing natural rock formations.
The Colorado/Utah trip will be from April 21-29 and four seniors will travel with Mr. Bonis, Chris Garbe, Jack Hannan, Max O'Herlihy and Lucas Vanroboys. He warns students that they have to be both physically and mentally ready for the experience and he encourages each of them to train and run up to five miles at a time. Dealing with high altitude is a real challenge but much of what they have to learn is developing mental toughness.
“You get these conditioned athletes who have never experienced it and they are laboring through every step,” Mr. Bonis said. “They learn that not everything is handed to you and sometimes no matter how good or physically gifted you are,your mental component has to come in to drive you.”
Part of the educational experience is the dramatic difference in the environment that they experience and after five trips to both Colorado and Utah Mr. Bonis knows what questions to anticipate such as how the animals and plant life survive in such harsh climates.
“We go from true alpine to true desert environments within four hours,” he said.
As part of the process, Mr. Bonis likes to leave much of the trip to be a mystery, so the boys can experience it without preconceived ideas of what to expect.
“I want the questions, ‘what are we doing today? How are we doing this?’ ” he said. “They go to an environment they’ve probably never been in. They start to experience challenges. They start to feel rewards.”
He is strict with them about what they need to do. They need to eat and drink, or their altitude sickness won’t get better. There are also bodily functions, like urination that have to happen, he said.
“The first day we set up camp and we go up to the trailhead, which is a little over 10,000 feet,” he said. The students soon learn how difficult just walking is at high altitude. “The next day we go up to treeline or just above and the kids battle. And the next day, we go for the summit.”
That process of acclimatizing their bodies pays off and most of them are successful. There have been times, including last year, when there has been a student who is so sick he is unable to continue. However, Mr. Bonis lets the student make his own decision with guidance. Most of the time the preparation works for everyone in the group.
“Some people will just shoot for the summit. We have quite literally passed people who’ve set out before us. We passed them and they never go to the summit,” he said.
For some of the students, it is not the physical exertion of making the summit of the mountain that stays with them. Mr. Bonis said that many times he hears that what they really enjoyed was the calm and peace of watching the sunset in the Utah desert and experiencing that tranquility.
Each of the trips also has a focus on each student’s personal Hero’s Journey, which continues to be a tenet in every boy’s South Kent experience. Each of the trip leaders said that by bringing students off campus and out of the classroom, this provides opportunities for tests and challenges. In each case, students will find how the measure up and these experiences will stay with them for a long time.