Commerce High School students may soon get to travel abroad as part of their course of study.
The Commerce Board of Education heard a presentation Thursday night about the opportunities for educational tours of foreign countries and appeared enthusiastic about the possibility.
Sammie Elliott Hester, daughter of former city school superintendent Doc Elliott, parent of a rising CHS freshman and a representative of EF Educational Tours, pitched the possibility of annual trips to the school board at the invitation of superintendent Joy Tolbert.
Tolbert said the exit interview after the last SACS visit caused her to consider the possibility. She said SACS members were concerned about “what are you going to do to give your kids a global experience, to let them see the world outside of Commerce, outside of Jackson County, outside of Georgia, outside of the U.S.”
Hester again brought up the travel possibility, explaining that she’d been trained by the company and had taken trips with it as a teacher and administrator for a small private school. She also pointed out that surrounding systems — Jefferson, Jackson County and Banks County — all use EF.
She proposed that an appropriate first trip that could take place sometime during the current school year, would be an eight-day tour to Costa Rica, where students would be immersed in the culture, go to a conservatory, see research in the “cloud forest,” visit an elementary school to interact with the kids, learn about folklore and the customs and engage in activities from horseback riding to kayaking to exploring by zip line.
“Costa Rica is the number one tour for a start-up,” Hester told the board.
The cost would be $2,476 per student, with financing options available. Parents and students would be responsible for raising that amount, which covers all transportation and sightseeing costs, lodging, tours and two meals a day — plus insurance, although the insurance is optional. For every six students who sign up, one adult chaperone goes at no cost.
“Just based on my experience, student interest is very high,” Hester said.
She said schools plan the trips for a variety of times, during the fall, Christmas or spring breaks or right after the school year ends. If the trips require missing school, the students get credit for attendance. And, she pointed out, the trips are aligned with the Common Core Curriculum. “It’s really a phenomenal experience how they can integrate that,” she stated.
The company, which is the oldest educational tour company in America, can also customize trips for special groups — such as an AP class.
She talked about her last trip, to Italy.
“When my kids walked into the Roman Coliseum, when they saw where the chariots parked… my kids literally got it. They understood,” she said. “To see them connect with what they were taught was mind-blowing for me. It was not all just fluff in a history book. My kids were just so happy they went.”
Kids on the tours, and their parents, are required to sign a statement acknowledging that in the event of misbehavior, the kids are immediately flown back to the U.S. at their parents’ expense.
“I’ve never had a discipline issue,” Hester said. “There’s been no kid caught slipping out of a room or doing anything inappropriate.”
CHS used to offer a senior trip to New York and Washington, DC, but those ceased after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and Tolbert said there has been little interest among CHS faculty about reinstating them.
BOE member Bill Davis suggested that many CHS students would be unable to afford a tour, but member Kyle Moore said he believed that “anything you really want to do, you will figure out a way to do it.”
Typically, Tolbert said, the system would announce in January the tour and its cost for the following school year, giving students more than one calendar year to raise the money. Hester said schools also have the option of creating fundraising events to assist students in raising the money.
The board took no immediate action on Hester’s proposal.