By: Morgan Sexton
The world is becoming Wayne County School students’ classroom more and more often. Even though Wayne County Schools is considered a small rural school system, more and more local students are venturing out and becoming world travelers, studying the world on a global level. Gifted and Talented Coordinator Jennifer Chaplin is working to create a culture of travel within the Wayne County school system. The GT students in the school system have been presented with the opportunity to travel to Australia this summer or to Italy during fall break 2018.
To prepare for these trips, Chaplin recently traveled during winter break to Madrid, Spain, for training on international travel.There will be 79 people (44 students, 11 chaperones, 24 parents) on the tour to Italy, so with that many the group will have to divide in half to make the trip possible. Jennifer Chaplin will lead one group while Johnny Chaplin, Wayne County Schools Federal Projects Director, will lead the other. His training was held even more recently, in Rome from January 11-15.
The educators are excited to expand local students’ worlds through these trips, even though they take on a heavy responsibility overseeing everyone’s safety. Fortunately, they have a support group to back them up in these foreign countries.“It gives us peace of mind to know we have ‘boots on the ground’ to assist us through a worldwide travel agency network,” said Johnny Chaplin. “We’ve got to do a lot of preparing ahead of time to make sure our group leaders and chaperones know what to expect and are ready for the process to unfold. For, instance, just coming back into the states and going through customs is an eye-opening experience.”
The GT program travels through a group called Education First (EF), which hosts both domestic and international tours. EF wants to make sure the students are safe and the chaperones are confident on each tour. This is why they provide a free international travel training to any teacher who will be leading students on a tour. Fortunately, the two Wayne County educators were able to take advantage of the opportunity that they will share with local young people.
GT Coordinator Jennifer Chaplin spent four days in Spain learning about the safety features for each tour, such as hotel security and hospital access. In addition, each tour group is paired with a full time tour director who is native to the country. That sets the trip apart from individual travel because the guide shares cultural and logistic knowledge making the tour more efficient and informative for the travelers. During her trip to Spain, Chaplin was impressed by sites like the Cathedral in Toledo and the Temple of Debod in Madrid. She traveled with educators from the eastern half of the United States.
When Johnny Chaplin traveled to Italy, he was part of a regional group of educatorsfrom Kentucky, Indiana, West Virginia and Tennessee. He enjoyed all the history in Vatican City and the Coliseum Ruins in Rome.
“You could imagine the brutality of it, but also the ingenuity of the people that built it,” he said. The other advantage for the couple was trying to immerse themselves into the culture by experiencing the language differences and sampling new cuisines that they hope their students will enjoy in the future.
The EF program also has an online platform called weShare, where traveling students complete a project about something they are passionate about in the place they are headed. Students complete the weShare project for high school credit. With a little more work, students can also get college credit.
According to a blog by Global Leadership Adventures, international travel pushes students out of their comfort zone, forcing them to grow. Traveling in a culture different from home encourages students to become more independent and sharpens self-awareness. It also demonstrates courage that will help them stand out to future colleges and employers. The GT program’s educational philosophy is simple – the best way to help students gain new perspective and build skills for the future is through experiential learning. “You know students learn on a deeper level when what you’re teaching connects to their own lives,” said Chaplin. The educators have witnessed students increase their global perspectives, appreciate different cultures, and strengthen new language skills on the trips.
Emmersen Van Nice is a high school junior who has already taken advantage of GT’s past trips to Puerto Rico and Washington D.C. and New York City. She has made traveling a priority for her high school career.
“I think it’s important to not only learn about other cultures, but to experience them as well,” said Van Nice. “Going to these places is an opportunity I may not get outside of high school, so I’m taking it while I can.” Her cultural experiences in other cities has broadened her understanding of what America really looks like. “You always hear in school that the United States is a 'melting pot' of many different races and ethnic backgrounds. Walking through the streets of New York, you really see this in action.” She explained, “There are so many people that look so different from one another, all walking along together in peace.”
This expansion of mind is what makes Chaplin want to keep showing her students the world. “I just want kids to see there’s a whole big wide world outside the borders of Monticello, KY”, said Chaplin. “I like to see kids connect with another culture. It is this light - like they get it. It’s an awareness."
Many young GT students are making plans for future trips. Chaplin intends to make a schedule for years down the road to give her students a plan to look forward to.
What is next for the GT tours? In the Summer of 2019, students will be touring Germany and France to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-day operations during World War II. By planning ahead, students can gradually save money for the trip and participate in fundraising efforts to help offset the cost. Some of the ways to help families offset the cost include: EF student travel scholarship essay contest, EF Individual Student Giving Page, community-wide recycling programs, litter abatement program, food/drink sales, or t-shirt sales – just to name some of the possibilities.
Jennifer Chaplin smiled in front of the Temple of Debod in Madrid, Spain
Chaplin snapped a photo of the Cathedral in Toldeo. "Toledo is a beautiful ancient city," she said. "It's an experience I'll never forget."
Emmersen Van Nice stood in front of the Statue of Liberty during the January 2016 tour of New York City
Johnny Chaplin was amongst teachers from this region visiting Vatican City
Johnny Chaplin at the Roman Coliseum
The Roman Coliseum
Photos courtesy of Jennifer Chaplin, Johnny Chaplin, and Emmersen VanNice