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‘A Great Big World Out There’

Students Find Creative Ways to Raise $ for Overseas Travel

Experiencing faraway lands is important to staff and students at Kelloggsville and Comstock Park high schools. What impact does globe-trotting have on students, and how do they raise the money needed to add those stamps to their passports? Read on.

Kelloggsville Adventurers

As a high school junior here, Krista Bodo went on a 10-day trip to Spain and Andalusia with her favorite teacher, Donna Casmere, and a group of other students. She saw masterpieces she had studied in art class – Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” and Diego Velazquez’s “Las Meninas” – at museums in Madrid.

“Now when I talk about certain monuments and pieces I can say, ‘I’ve actually seen this in person, and this is what it is like to stand in front of it,'” said Bodo, who recently was hired as her alma mater’s art teacher. “I think that really influences the students.”

You could say Bodo is walking in the shoes of her mentor. She is taking over the student trips that Casmere started 20 years ago, and helping students raise money and prepare for the same 10-day tour in June that she went on as a student.

“I am trying to take over Donna’s position that she was so awesome and passionate about,” Bodo said. The trips are a big piece of that.

“You’ve got to get out of your community once and see something else. There’s a great big world out there. You need to experience it.”

Kelloggsville seniors Alexia Plaza, Jaime Tiesma and Addie Coons are looking forward to their trip to Spain this summer

A Rich Travel Tradition

Casmere, who retired in 2014 after 36 years of teaching art in Kelloggsville, opened trips up every two years to all students, parents and community members. Through the student travel company EF Tours, she helped land students in Japan, Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Greece (three times).

“Travel is a cultural awakening for everyone,” said Casmere. “When they were done with the trips they had a new sense of themselves.”

Bodo’s continuation of the trips means amazing opportunities for
seniors Addie Coons, Jaime Tiesma and Alexia Plaza, who are on their way to Spain this summer. Jaime also went on school trips to Ireland and Wales, Italy and France, and Alexia visited the United Kingdom, but it will be Addie’s first time on an airplane.

Jaime and Alexa cherish memories of exploring the Ring of Kerry in Ireland, getting caught in the rain in France and becoming inspired about possible careers.

Jaime is planning on a career in engineering, and was inspired by the buildings she saw abroad. “In Italy and France, I saw the architecture and that got me interested in architecture and engineering.”

“I think I want to be a doctor, and in Ireland there were a bunch of new medical facilities we were able to drive past,” Alexia said. “I thought it would be really cool to work in a place like that.”

Savvy Saving

Overseas travel may seem like a luxury reserved for affluent families. Yet in Kelloggsville, about 78 percent of students are considered economically disadvantaged, qualifying for free or reduced lunch.

“That was why I started doing it with the Kelloggsville kids,” Casmere said. “Kids thought they couldn’t make the money and I’d say, ‘If you trust me I will show you how.'”

The tours take two years of fundraising. Spain costs $3,500, which students raise through sales, special events and services.

The fundraising itself creates important connections, Casmere said. She challenged students to raise money by hosting art camps for children, and by using Dale Carnegie’s Skills for Success to invite people to support their trip at Barnes & Noble fundraisers.

One student held pop can collections in his neighborhood. Another sold greeting cards of her own artwork, which led her to realize she was talented enough to attend Kendall College of Art & Design.

Casmere always loved watching students learning to understand basic accounting and to save money. She also rejoiced in seeing the trips through her students’ eyes, whether it was an art student gazing up at the Sistine Chapel, or a student interested in religion walking into a cathedral. She remembers one student deciding in Spain that she would become a Spanish Immersion teacher — and she did.

“I don’t think anyone would say they weren’t profoundly moved” by their travels, she added.

Comstock Park junior Reid Parsons makes a friend during a school trip last spring to Rio Bamba, Ecuador

Comstock Park Explorers

Abby Vanleeuwen spent a solid year working a restaurant job in order to pay for a trip to Peru this spring break. Conor Loftis sometimes put in 12-hour days installing and removing boat docks to be able to afford the estimated $4,000 cost.

For both, it was their first time out of the country. And both say all that hard work was worth the 12 days they spent in South America.

“Oh, 100 percent,” said Abby. “I didn’t spend a penny of my paychecks until the trip.”

Added Conor: “I really liked being able to spend time within a different culture, and seeing that America is not the only thing out there.”

For their most recent trip in Peru, her students toured the capital city of Lima, visited 15th-century citadel Machu Picchu and ancient ruins. They also spent time at a preschool building shelves, doing general sprucing up and getting to know students there.

“This was my first overseas trip without my parents, so I really got to experience it for myself,” said senior Kailen Kiander, who plans to major in global studies in college. “It was like the first step into being on my own, and going into what I want to do in life.”

Return on Investment: Priceless

Comstock Park has offered seven overseas trips for students since 2012, including Australia and New Zealand; Britain, France and Italy; and Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands. The program was started by world history teacher and avid globe-trotter Betsy Rybarczyk, who is on leave this year and next — herself overseas.

AP government and psychology teacher Maggie Parrish, who has gone on several of the trips as a chaperone, now heads the program. She said the benefits go far beyond seeing new places.

“We have students who had never been on an airplane before, who had never been out of Michigan,” Parrish said. “We understand it’s a huge undertaking (to raise the money), but I think it’s an invaluable experience. They learn so much about themselves as individuals.”

Parrish recalled one student who took on three jobs to be able to pay to go to Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic.

“Seeing his face when we got to Berlin, when we toured Auschwitz, and knowing that he did this, he made it possible for him to be standing there — I know added a whole new layer to the experience.”


Betsy Rybarczyk’s world history class

Comstock Park junior Conor Loftis, left, shows off the shelves he built in a school in Peru over spring break this year
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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is managing editor and reporter, covering Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013, and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio


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