It might be a bit early for them to start packing their bags, but a group of Colchester High School students are heading to Costa Rica next spring.

At its meeting last Tuesday, the school board signed off on a nine-day trip for 18 students in April 2018 with an itinerary centered on learning about conservation, as well as Costa Rica’s culture and language.

“We’re really excited about this opportunity,” CHS principal Heather Baron said. “It’s really valuable for our students, and it can’t happen at Colchester High School the way it can in Costa Rica.”

The approval comes after an informational session at the board’s April 18 meeting during which the three Colchester world language teachers slotted to chaperone the trip – Carrie Robinson, Keren Turner and Emma Pedrin – laid out the details.

Their plan encompassed educational, travel and eligibility requirements, as well as the safety aspects the district plans to address.

On travel, the teachers proposed arrangements be made through Education First, the largest travel organization in the world with representatives in 116 countries.

The company estimates the trip will cost approximately $3,300 per student.

“We have worked closely with a few reps that have come to the school and the area when there were various conferences up here,” Robinson said. “They were very thorough and very established. For us, they took the guesswork out of this whole process.”

The total cost of the trip includes travel insurance that protects against lost luggage, unexpected life events, medical sickness and travel delays, Turner said. A local, EF-employed guide will also travel with the group 24/7.

“It includes essentially everything from flights and private accommodations to transportation. Any entrance fees, tours – that’s the flat fee,” Pedrin added, acknowledging the trip is expensive.

After discussion with Baron, the teachers decided traveling privately would be the best way to keep the CHS group “intact” while in Costa Rica, Turner said, although it is an added cost.   

Pedrin also noted EF’s flexible approach to payment would be beneficial to students and their families. Payment plans can be arranged, and in an emergency, she said, partial or full refunds are available.

The world language colleagues also mapped out the group’s proposed travel plans while in Costa Rica, starting with their day one landing in the country’s capital, San Jose.

The second and third day will be spent at Playa Palo Seco visiting a crocodile farm and exploring conservation activities. On day four, the student-teacher envoy will see Manual Antonio National Park and after that, the next three days will be spent in the northern Arenal region.

“Activities will include opportunities to see animals in their native habitat, to explore local conservation efforts, to literally get our hands in the dirt and help mapping and planting mangroves,” Turner said.

The group will return to San Jose for the last two days and tour a coffee plantation before departing.

In terms of eligibility, any CHS student can apply. Although world language is a focus, students who submit applications are not required to be Spanish language students.

“There may be students interested in conservation without the Spanish piece,” Robinson said. “But they certainly would experience a bunch of Spanish.”

A student informational meeting will be held during school day, and from there, students will be given general info and have the opportunity to ask questions, Baron said.

After that, there will be a mandatory student-parent meeting, and a couple weeks later applications will be due.

Following the application and selection process, regular monthly or bi-monthly student and family meetings will be held up until the day of departure, Pedrin said.

Whether they are interested in conservation, language or both, students who embark on the trip will earn .5 credits contingent on pre- and post-travel work, supplemented by additional info and research they will gather on their excursion, Baron said.

Although the details have yet to be hammered out, Baron said each individual’s project will be different depending on the inquiry question on which they based their work.

Although the academic credit was originally presented as optional at the April 18 meeting, Pedrin said it would be made mandatory.

Despite its unanimous approval – minus board member Curt Taylor, who was absent – the board’s decision did not come without questions or contingencies.

In a discussion before the motion for approval last Tuesday, board members raised concerns around procedural and monetary issues.

Board member Linsey Cox noted that while she is a strong proponent of international travel for high school students, she wanted more information about how the high school will continue planning in the coming year.

“I want to make sure that have really clear procedures laid out,” Cox said. “I’m not sure what those procedures are at the building level, but that’ll be really crucial especially when we get these trips so we have a clear school board checklist.”

Board chairman Mike Rodgers also noted the importance of establishing feasible fundraising strategies.

“We have to ask some pointed questions about how we’re going to raise the money to make it equitable for all students with means or without means,” he said. “I really think that we need some feedback after about how those guidelines are met.”

CHS parent Karen Nichols urged the board to approve next spring’s trip.

“It would be an opportunity to allow kids to do something new and different and give kids an opportunity they may not have at home with their own families,” she said.

Moving forward, the language teachers will continue to work with Baron to hammer out final application and project criteria.

“There is nothing like firsthand experience,” Robinson said.