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Student Group Travel with Habitat for Humanity and Quest Adventures

Building with Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans!
Building with Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans! Please welcome Boston Public Schools teacher, Laura Castelli, who will tell us about wonderful student group travel opportunities in France and New Orleans!

Laura, please tell us a bit about your background.

Laura: Originally, I am from a small town in New York. I have been living in Boston for eight years now and teaching in Boston for the past three. I am currently teaching French at the Boston Community Leadership Academy in Brighton.

TT: Excellent! As a fellow BPS teacher, woo hoo! Please tell us about your travel adventures.

L: I’ve had two major travel experiences with student groups.

The majestic architecture of Strasbourg, France.
The majestic architecture of Strasbourg, France.

The first was New Orleans. My first two years of teaching I helped plan and chaperone a service-learning trip to New Orleans. We traveled down for the week of April vacation and worked with Habitat for Humanity to help rebuild after Hurricane Katrina and the resulting floods. It was a great experience for all of us involved. We were able to see just how lucky we all are and put our lives into a different perspective.

Strasbourg: Last summer, I traveled with a group of 10 students to Strasbourg, France for 3 weeks. Each student lived with a family from the area. They attended daily French classes in the morning and went on excursions around Strasbourg and into Germany each afternoon.

The students were able to experience the real French way of life while living with their host families. Their language abilities improved quickly. They are very excited for their hosts to come and stay with their families in Boston this summer!

TT: What wonderful journeys! How did you find these travel opportunities?

L: The New Orleans trip was planned and chaperoned by four teachers from The English High School (where I worked at the time). We had the idea to do an international service trip, but during the planning process we decided to keep the trip within the United States so as to not exclude those students without passports.

Students working hard in New Orleans.
Students working hard in New Orleans.

Strasbourg: I received an email from the coordinator of World Languages for Boston Public Schools about an international exchange program available to my students. Included with the student applications was a chaperone application.

I applied and was selected to accompany the students to Strasbourg, and in turn, coordinate the program the next summer when the French students come to Boston.

TT: Clearly you kept your ears open and were proactive about embracing any opportunities that came near! How did you find the money to fund this travel?

L: New Orleans: While the main source of money was a grant from Quest Adventures, all of EHS rallied together to help raise the rest of the funds for the students to travel to New Orleans. The students were responsible for individually raising $400 each over the course of several months.

They planned bake sales, helped teachers clean their classrooms, asked family and friends, and contacted businesses and their churches. As a group we sold Valentine’s Day carnations, held a raffle (with donated prizes), held a bar event for staff and friends, and had many, many bake sales.

Happy students during the Boston-Strasbourg exchange.
Happy students during the Boston-Strasbourg exchange.

Strasbourg: The exchange to Strasbourg was fully funded by the Boston-Strasbourg Sister-City Association. This group has had a long-standing relationship with the city of Strasbourg (over 50 years).

It is funded by donation and fundraiser events. They hold many cultural events throughout the year. This association has planned and funded student exchanges for over 25 years, as well as exchanges of artists, teachers, and other groups.

TT: Thanks so much for telling us about these organizations! I hope our readers look into them for their own travel.

Now, please tell us a few moments from your travels that were particularly powerful.

Boston students building houses in New Orleans!
Boston students building houses in New Orleans!

L: New Orleans: We traveled to New Orleans with a group of students including one who was homeless and another who had spent time in juvenile detention. These students live in the worst areas of Boston where gun shots are a normal part of the background noise at home.

When we first arrived and were traveling to the volunteer housing from the airport, we passed some of the neighborhoods that been hit the hardest by the hurricane. As we drove by, one student commented, ?”Wow, this is the hood!”?

It was inspiring to hear this change in perspective. We are always caught up in our own problems and we forget that others may have it worse. It was great for them to make this connection right from the beginning. It made the rest of the trip that much more meaningful and powerful for us all.

Strasbourg: The students were so excited to get to know each other and learn about their cultures. While the language barrier was an issue in the beginning, the students quickly found ways to overcome this and communicate their ideas and thoughts. They still keep in touch on Facebook almost a year later.

The student group in Strasbourg, France!
The vibrant student group in Strasbourg, France!

TT: Beautiful. How have your travels impacted you as a teacher?

L: My travels have made me much more confident in my work. I was afraid, at first, of how the students would behave in a strange place, but we were careful with the selection process and the students really rose to the challenge. I was able to deal with any behavior or morale issues before they got out of hand.

It was also very beneficial to see the students outside of school. It is so easy to think of them only in the context of the one class we see them in. Teachers sometimes forget where these students come from and what they deal with outside of school. It was also great to see them excel in different areas. They don’?t often have the chance to show off their particular skills inside the classroom.

Boston students painting in New Orleans!
Boston students painting in New Orleans!

TT: So well-said. What advice do you have for other teachers who are dreaming of travel?

L: While it is a lot of work to plan and organize a trip with students, if you have a good group of students who are invested in the project, the rewards far outweigh the challenges.

TT: Thanks so much for your insights and inspiration, Laura!

Readers, what questions and comments do you have for our esteemed Boston French teacher-traveler?


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Friday 29th of July 2011

Dear Laura, Thank you for sharing your inspiring story. We have a bit in common, as I am also from New York and my husband is from Louisiana so I have spent some time in New Orleans. I really enjoyed reading about your experiences. My first international travel experience was to China, as a student, with the People to People Student Ambassadors Program. I traveled with 30 others students and three teachers. As you mentioned in your travels to France, while the language barrier was an issue in the beginning, we also quickly found ways to overcome it and communicate our thoughts. We had the opportunity to met many Chinese students and learned that we had so much in common although we came from diverse cultures and backgrounds. We really enjoyed meeting and learning about each other. Years later, I had the opportunity to return to China and teach English. It was a wonderful experience. One point that I agree with is that it was "very beneficial to see the students outside of school". While I didn't have to deal with behavior issues, due to the one child policy in China many students had a lot of pressure from parents to excel in school, therefore is was also great to see them excel in different areas outside the classroom. Myself and other teachers would often play sports with students or organize singing competitions etc. Thanks again for your post!

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