National Post (Latest Edition)
From t r opical j ourneys of discovery to high- seas adventures on a tall ship, e ducational t r avel has brought a whole new level of experiential learning — and extra credit — to high school students.
When Alexandria DeCarlo was looking for a way to accelerate her studies to make room for competitive swim training, she looked to a variety of summer school programs. What she embarked upon was a lifechanging experience studying biology in Fiji.
Biology in Fiji is a grade 11 credit program offered by Ontario- based Edu Travel Inc. The three- week travel itinerary includes a snorkel tour of a coral reef and participation in a replanting project, conservation activities such as turtle tagging, and cultural and scientific excursions of discovery, all f rom an off- t he- grid eco-friendly base on Leleuvia Island.
DeCarlo, now 22, traveled to Fiji in the summer of 2013. “It was the most amazing experience of my life and I would do it again in a heartbeat,” she says. “There is something to be said about learning about different parts of the world and travelling abroad when you are young. You gain independence, see real- world applications and learn of their i mportance. There are some things you simply cannot conceptualize in the classroom. Being in the field brings a huge benefit.”
For students who have constraints on their time, reaching for credit in the summer has become common, says Ari Sargon, Edu Travel’s owner and director. “Sacrificing the summer to broaden horizons and see other parts of the world is very appealing. The learning model is so different from the traditional classroom, and that is a huge part of the draw,” he says.
Edu Travel does not limit its credit programs to biology in Fiji (and more recently Sri Lanka), however.
The organization’s most popular offering is civics and careers — a compulsory course for every high school student in Ontario. “This is the most failed course in sec- ondary school, not because it is especially challenging but because it can be dry,” says Sargon. “We bring the course to life during a week- long, three- city tour with stops in Ottawa, Montreal and New York.”
The Spirit of America grade 11/12 English program takes students along America’s east coast with visits to the Smithsonian, Brooklyn, Harlem and Greenwich Village while they read The Crucible, The Handmaid’s Tale and Catcher in the Rye. “We adapt each course so the study of literature is relevant to place,” notes Sargon.
For those with a hankering for seafaring, Lunenburg, N.S.’s Class Afloat gives senior students ( grades 11 and 12 plus first- year university) a year of high- seas study and adventure aboard a tall ship. Each year- long excursion includes stops at over 20 ports of call along the route including Netherlands, Portugal, U. K., Senegal, Brazil, South Africa and Bermuda, to name just a few.
Formal study takes place every day during sailing on a deck divided into four classrooms with white boards, lab equipment and projectors, says David Jones, Class Afloat’s president. “We often work in conjunction with the ship so it is not uncommon for a physics class to be held on the bridge where we may study vectors in a real- life situation, such as using wind direction and forward propulsion as we travel through the Strait of Gibraltar, where currents are against us.”
At each port there is a four- day layover where programs are integrated into the curriculum. That can mean catching tuna off the coast of Africa, visiting the telescope complex in the Canary Islands or spending time with a family in Dakar, Senegal working in the hospital garden and learning about the local community. “For most students this is their first exposure to a severely lesser- developed country. They will discuss the experience both before and after the port call. They might also spend a day eating only the diet of the local people, such as rice with beans, and try to better understand how people live in many other areas of the world.”
Curriculum study is not the only on- board education that is happening, however. “Students are learning to sail a pretty complicated ship. That takes a great deal of teamwork and discipline, and students begin to understand the importance of making a full contribution,” notes Jones. “Yes, we are visiting exotic places and sailing the seas but it’s about more than that. It’s about the small things, especially community — the close quarters in which we are living and our role in the places we visit. How to be respectful to both shipmates and the people we connect with.”
For students looking to broaden their horizons and academic standing, DeCarlo advises, “don’t limit yourself. See what’s out there and travel abroad. You will learn new concepts, grow as a person, make lifelong friends along the way and gain an experience like none other.”
Edu Travel programs range in cost from $ 1,700 to $ 5, 900 depending on duration and locale. Class Afloat fees for Canadian students are $ 52,000 for a full year or $ 36,000 for a single semester aboard ship. Prerequisites and/or academic qualification apply to all programs.
IT WAS THE MOST AMAZING EXPERIENCE OF MY LIFE AND I WOULD DO IT AGAIN IN A HEARTBEAT. THERE IS SOMETHING TO BE SAID ABOUT LEARNING ABOUT DIFFERENT PARTS OF THE WORLD AND TRAVELLING ABROAD WHEN YOU ARE YOUNG. — ALEXANDRIA DECARLO