Annual international trips through the district allow students to experience global education through culture, food, language and more
By Brit Milazzo
Public relations, BASD
Bellefonte Area School District has a philosophy to help its staff and students become global citizens so they can better function in a global society. It comes with a goal to allow as many different staff and students as possible to travel internationally.
That’s one of the reasons why a 10-year international travel plan was created in 2015 after a trip to China. Since its inception, staff and students have traveled to England, Spain, France, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Germany, Italy and Greece. In October, a third-ever school trip to China is happening with another one to France and Spain to follow next summer with 43 students – its largest group yet.
“It became clear that to have this vision and make it a reality, we needed a plan," said Karen Krisch, principal at Marion-Walker Elementary School who also helps oversee the travel-abroad initiatives. “The neat thing is that kids gush about their experience of traveling and it gives them a new take on the world and life and it’s something they can even use on a college resume. Many colleges are encouraging international travel and that’s trickling down into (secondary) schools.”
Global travel at Bellefonte Area School District was started with inspiration from the Chinese Exchange Initiative that allowed Krisch and Superintendent Michelle Saylor to travel to China as a way to form a relationship with its two sister schools – No. 20 Middle School and No. 4 Middle School in Shijiazhuang, China. The trip in 2015 allowed staff and students to spend about two weeks in the East Asia country, first staying with host families, doing some local touring and working with the school. The remainder of the time allowed the group to tour other parts of the country by experiencing culture, food, language and more.
Krisch said that trips are organized with an educational aspect in mind for students to experience culture, foreign language, service learning and specific curriculum. All trips are also planned with help from a taskforce made of elementary, middle and high school teachers, and using Education First Educational Tours – an agency aimed at providing groups with educational experiences, dedicated support and safety management at group-rate prices often lower than booking trips elsewhere.
While abroad, the group works with a guide from EF Tours that helps with details such as language barriers and safety protocol. All chaperones are also trained on travel etiquette, safety measures, culture, public transportation in a foreign country, organization, passport and visa information, group travel and more.
“At any given time, we have four trips in mind – one done, one going, one recruiting for and one ready to launch,” Krisch said. “Eventually, we might be looking into domestic travel, too, and opening up trips to middle school (students).”
Recruitment starts 18 months to two years ahead of time. Future trips include Ireland, Scotland, Australia and Japan. And Krisch said her biggest tip to students is to select a trip they might not be able to go on otherwise in the future. Parents and chaperones also work together to form a fundraising plan to help offset costs of the trip. EF Tours additionally establishes a donation page for each student traveler.
*Trips and excursions are at the discretion of the superintendent. Per policy 121.2, trips and excursions may be altered or canceled in response to declared states of emergency, terror alerts, other safety concerns and/or information issued by the Department of Homeland Security that could impact the trip and more.