PROFILE: St. Joseph students learn…by going

Published 2:34 pm Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Five days a week, roughly nine months of the year, St. Joseph High School students do all the things students in other high schools do: They take tests, study English, math and other subjects and do a lot of reading.

But every other year for ten days, St. Joseph students and staff take their classroom on the road, so to speak.

Their studies are first-hand lessons that come from visits to other countries.

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While the trips are fun and include lots of sightseeing, they are also up-close-and-personal lessons on history, social studies and even civics that can’t be learned in a regular classroom.

This year

In the past, students and staff have visited Italy and the British Isles.

This spring the sojourn will be to Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Fifty students and chaperones will leave the Tuesday after Easter and return 10 days later.

All St. Joseph trips are organized by Educational Tours, which specializes in learning experience trips for young people.

Another way of doing things

The trip to the Germanic countries will include visits to the Salzburg, Austria, Munich, Germany, Lucerne, Switzerland and Dachau, one of the infamous concentration camps where millions lost their lives during the Third Reich.

During the trip they will meet people from those countries and gain an insight into their world and their lives which is exactly what Maria Walters is looking forward to.

“I want to see the difference between how they live and how we live, the different foods they eat that we don’t usually eat,” Walters said. “I want to see if they eat the same things we do or maybe if they just cook it in different ways.”

And this curiosity is exactly what the trips are meant to inspire.

Teacher Ruthie Hopkins emphasized the trips allow the kids to see and learn to appreciate cultures and ways of doing things that are different from their own experiences.

“We want them to be able to view the world as bigger than from one floodwall to another floodwall in Ironton,” she said.

The trips give kids a chance to compare cultures and countries. Sunni Clyse said Italy had beautiful architecture and Ireland “was more like home but even prettier.”

Glennie Hopkins enjoyed the trip to Ireland and a seemingly slower pace of life.

“I got the sense that it isn’t rushed like it is here,” Hopkins said.

Seeing it for real

They’ve read about Italy and Ireland and Germany in social studies books. But there’s nothing like seeing those places in person and making memories that will last a lifetime.

“We want them to know that there is a larger world out there,” Sissy Clyse, school development director, said. “Just seeing their faces light up because they see something amazing…”

Eli Lewis hopes to see a BMW factory when he visits Germany. Anthony Whaley is looking forward to visiting Vienna, “because of all its history and because of the composers who are from there,” he said.

Haley Glockner wants to see Dachau.

On the Italian trip, Kayla Pyles treasured her visit to see the Sistine Chapel. Kara Jordan’s favorite part of the Italian trip was not the architecture, not the sightseeing, not even the gondola ride in Venice. It was, well, the food. She can still remember the taste of gelatto.

“American ice cream can’t even compare,” she said.

Friends up close and personal

Another byproduct of the overseas trips is independence, Sissy Clyse said. The kids who go learn they can maneuver, even in another county, without help from their parents. Even those kids whose parents go as chaperones are not put in the same group with Mom or Dad so they can relish that bit of independence.

“It’s kind of a prequel to college,” Sissy Clyse said. “They’re rooming with different people and learning to get along.”

On the Italian trip, Kayla Pyles got the chance to see classmates as she had never seen them before.

“Sometimes you figure out stuff about people you didn’t know before,” Pyles mused.

For Lane Johnson, the trip to Europe will be his first trip overseas. For Haley Glockner, it will be the first time flying.

“I’m actually excited. I don’t think it will be that scary,” she said.

Family ties

Ironton’s roots have heavy German influence and not surprisingly, some making the trip this year will find a family connection to the German-speaking countries.

“This is the land of my forefathers,” Spencer Schwab said. “And we’re going to go to a couple of castles. That’s interesting.”

“My heritage is German but I don’t know much about the culture,” teacher John Lutz agreed.

Knowing me, knowing you

The adults also hope that by seeing something of the rest of the world, the kids will return home with a deeper appreciation of their own culture, their own country and their own traditions.

Maria Whaley’s grandparents came from Italy and she learned many family traditions from them.

“Not every child has that connection to ethnicity,” she said.