Southington, Cheshire high schools resume foreign trips

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Coming out of the restrictions brought on by the pandemic, Southington and Cheshire high schools are planning several trips abroad to mesh with the curriculum of several subjects.

The Southington school district plans six trips over the next two semesters, two to Italy, one to Germany and neighboring countries, as well as trips to Spain, France and China. Cheshire High School is planning five trips, most in April, to Germany, Italy, Iceland, Costa Rica and Puerto Rico. 

While some of the programs are being run through foreign language courses so that students can get hands-on experience with speaking the language and immersing themselves in the culture of the native country, others have branched out to touch on different aspects of the curriculum. 

For Cheshire, the Costa Rica trip is being helmed by a science teacher so students can explore the unique biodiversity of the country. In contrast, the Iceland trip is integrated with a health course so students will experience what the nation offers in terms of health and wellness activities like hiking and snorkeling while also doing service projects - bridging both physical and mental health subjects. 

The Italy trips are some of the most popular at Southington High School, having been held for multiple years. The trips take 33 students on a cultural exchange to see Rome and stay with a host family in Mondavi. Additionally, 15 students from the school’s Latin course will be attending separately to see the ruins of the Roman Forum in the capital. 

Southington High School finds itself in a unique situation this year. With many travel restrictions lifted after the pandemic, they’ve seen a surge in teachers looking to host international learning opportunities to make up for their absence the last several years. With six trips being held next school year, it’s the most the district has ever had. The number of students looking to attend these trips is also up, over prior years.

“Next year is actually an interesting year, and kind of the banner year for trips. There are six trips. I don't know that we've ever had a time before where there was so many trips going out. But the cool thing about it is each trip has its own flavor, so there are two trips that are going to Italy, but they're both very different,”  said Michael Halloran, Assistant Principal of Southington High School.

“Kids are just excited to travel and so there's the opportunity and teachers are excited to give the kids the experience of seeing the world,” Italian language teacher Kate Tavera Collins added.

To educators, the value of international trips goes beyond just being able to integrate their lessons with hands-on experience - but also having the students fully immerse themselves in the culture of other countries. 

Across both districts, administrators place an emphasis on making their students ‘global citizens,’ so that they may be able to contribute to their local communities and to the world stage as well. Part of forming that identity, they say, is allowing students a chance to meaningfully engage with those cultures and see how people experience life in other parts of the world. 

“I think there are a number of reasons why these trips are beneficial to students. The cultural experience, the bringing history to life, the opportunity to get to meet and talk with people from different countries. If we say that we pride ourselves on complex thinking and social-emotional learning here in Cheshire, giving students an opportunity to see different places, different experiences, and different cultures, only helps to expand their understanding of the world and get perspectives other than their own.” Cheshire Assistant Superintendent Marlene Silano said. “They're making memories and they're having these a-ha moments that they'll remember for a lifetime.”

For Silano, the connections students also make with each other are just as valuable. A similar sentiment was echoed by the Southington teachers, who mentioned students in the international programs made friendships with people well outside of their usual friend groups through their sessions ahead of the trips. 

Throughout the year the schools hold various informational sessions allowing the students and parents to attend and learn about the upcoming trips available. Every year, in Southington, the teachers try to have a couple trips running as to give all kids looking for a chance to go abroad can get a chance sometime during their four years. 

“It's essentially connections. It's the connections of the things you're studying in class, you're learning about. But now I'm here and I'm experiencing, I'm walking on these streets. I'm seeing these things. I'm speaking the language. I'm engaging with a family,” Halloran said, “It's the connections from the curriculum to the experiences. It's the connection from the kids to the diverse groups of kids who are traveling - but there's a connection from, from a staff perspective, you get to know these kids on a different level than your 45 minutes in a classroom. It's an incredible opportunity. And the teachers who organize these trips, the level and amount of work that they put into it is amazing. It's a testament to the care that they have for their kids and the experiences that they're willing to work above and beyond to provide for them.”


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