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Housatonic Valley Regional High School students and chaperones at the Temple of Poseidon in Cape Sounion, Greece. Photo by Danielle Melino

As pandemic eases, HVRHS students travel the world

FALLS VILLAGE —  Housatonic Valley Regional High School students recently returned from soaking in the beauty and marvels of Greece. From learning how to make tzatziki and Mycenaean-style pottery to touring the Acropolis and Temple of Poseidon, the students gained a deeper understanding of ancient history and a richer perspective of the world.

“It was my first trip abroad,” said Mackenzie Casey, an HVRHS senior. “I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to international travel.”

The school’s travel club, Northwest Corner: Students Without Borders, spent nine days exploring Athens, Olympia, Delphi and several islands.

Recent graduate Joe Brennan, who will study diplomacy and international relations at Seton Hall University, loved meeting the locals.

“We walked around the smaller towns and cities of Greece,” he said, noting the fun he and a fellow student had playing soccer with local kids.

The Greece tour is one of several school trips since the pandemic. Last year, students visited Costa Rica and Ecuador. In 2023, students will tour Japan, Ireland/Scotland and the Galapagos.

Through fundraising, HVRHS sends about 50 students a year on international trips.

Lasting impact

“These trips leave a lasting impact on students,” said John Lizzi, a social studies teacher at HVRHS and club board member. “The authentic learning cannot be replicated in the classroom.”

Recent graduate Natalie Wadsworth, who traveled to Costa Rica last December, said, “I practiced Spanish with store owners and our tour guide, which helped me prepare for the Spanish exams and seal of biliteracy I just completed.”

Bringing these experiences home to the HVRHS community will be evident with the upcoming Ireland/Scotland trip. Danielle Melino, an agricultural education teacher and club board member, designed the trip to include tours of several farms renowned for their environmentally sensitive management.

Students will learn about Iron Age pigs, Belted Galloway cattle, racehorses, reindeer and sheep breeds such as Soay, Blackface, Icelandic and Suffolk.

“We raise sheep at the high school, so visiting a sheep farm was high on my list,” she said. “They also have working sheep dogs that help manage the flocks.”

HVRHS student Casey  said the farm tours were a big reason why she signed up for this trip. “I lost most of my freshman year,” explained Casey, referring to the pandemic, “so I didn’t get as many experiences. I want to cram in as much as I can.”

Traveling during the pandemic

“As the world has seen, COVID-19 changes plans on a dime,” said Melino.

When the pandemic hit, the club canceled its trip to Italy. And then as COVID-19 spread across the world, a trip to the Galapagos kept getting rescheduled every six months.

Once borders reopened, in 2021, students packed their bags and took precautions by isolating, wearing masks and getting PCR tests. They made it as far as Ecuador — but then four travelers tested positive for COVID-19 and had to quarantine. Melino, who chaperoned, said that the tour director modified the itinerary so that the rest of the students could make the best of their time in Ecuador.

“While the students who had dreamed of visiting this beautiful ecosystem for over two years could have taken on a negative attitude, they continued to focus on this amazing experience,” said Melino. “They made use of their Spanish as they negotiated prices at the artisan market, tried a traditional dish of cuey [guinea pig], purchased alpaca blankets in the Andean highlands and enjoyed exploring Quito. They shifted gears and soaked up every moment.

“The students changed their mentality from this being just a trip of amazing places they were going to see, to a trip that showed them that they had grit and tenacity that many of them did not realize.”

Travel costs money

The club raised $30,000 last year and hopes to reach $50,000 this year through the Wine, Dinner and Auction at The White Hart in Salisbury on Friday, Sept. 16, at 6:30 p.m.

For more information, go to www.winedinnerandauction.com.

Lia Wolgemuth is a freelance writer based in Salisbury. Her child is a student at Housatonic Valley Regional High School and a part of Northwest Corner: Students Without Borders.

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