Early one morning this past spring, 18 members of the Atlantis Charter School’s Travel Club and three chaperones set out on an April Vacation adventure they will not soon forget.
The group boarded a plane bound for Frankfurt, Germany – the first stop on a 11-day trip across Europe. They went on to travel across Austria, Italy and Switzerland with EF (Education First) Tours, a global leader in educational tours.
“The purpose of the trip was to get high school students out into the world and get them to start thinking like they’re global citizens,” said Atlantis Travel Club adviser and teacher Amanda Medeiros-Mayall. “A lot of them tend to only look at the world in terms of what is going on in their immediate surroundings. I hope this trip changed their perspective and will allow them to broaden their horizons.”
Students learned about European history. They visited the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site near Munich and walked through a reconstructed bunkhouse. Atlantis hired a private tour guide for the day to help students understand the Holocaust.
“The kids were all really quiet and subdued and there were a lot of tears,” said ACS teacher Jolene Hamil-Cole. “It was hard to fathom and really process. They read Night in the ninth grade and they’ve read about Anne Frank, but this was a whole different level of experiencing and learning about the Holocaust.”
Another real-world learning experience occurred while they were in Salzburg, Austria — Notre Dame Cathedral caught fire. Students were aware of the intense sadness felt by people around them and wanted to understand.
“They said to us, ‘I know you’re sad, but I don’t know why, can you help us understand,’” said Hamil-Cole. “And we said, ‘imagine if in five or ten years you learn that Neuschwanstein Castle (which we visited in Germany) was burning, it would mean more to you because you had been there.’ And they got it. It helped them to see that they are part of the larger world.”
Students swam in the Adriatic Sea, they explored the canals of Venice by gondola, danced under the glockenspiel in Munich, in Salzburg they visited the salt mines and rode carriages through the city, and they saw many ancient castles and beautiful cathedrals throughout the trip.
Standing atop Mount Rigi in the Swiss Alps was a highlight for many. “At one point you could stand on top of the mountain and you had a 360-degree view of all the mountains and alpine lakes around you,” said ACS senior Rileigh Lemaire. “It was absolutely breathtaking.” Everyone agreed fresh air will never be the same.
Students were given time each day to explore with their friends. They were nervous at first, but as each day passed, their confidence and independence grew. They always gathered back at the meeting spot at the designated time.
The group dined family-style each night, enjoying authentic cuisine of the region. Of everything they tried, German Schnitzel, fried veal, was a group favorite. They were also big fans of the food in Italy – which they say is nothing like Italian food they grew up eating.
“The pizza and pasta in Italy was on a whole other level,” said ACS senior Nathan Botelho.
“My friends and I went to a café that served pizzas and paninis,” Lemaire recalled. “The pizza had nice creamy cheese. Some of the paninis had poppy seed paste inside, so it was very sweet. The food was not at all greasy like the food in America.”
The group walked about seven miles a day, but Hamil-Cole said there were no complaints. In fact, everywhere they went students were complemented on their good behavior.
“No matter where we went, we got comments from shopkeepers, hotel management, our tour guides, and other adults about how respectful and kind our kids were,” said Hamil-Cole. “They listened, they participated, they were respectful of time, and they got noticed for it on a number of occasions.”
“I never thought I would have the opportunity to travel with my classmates to Europe,” Botelho said. “We all grew so much over 11 days. We traveled across the world without our parents and we were fine. I would definitely do it again and would recommend the trip to people in the future.”
Medeiros-Mayall hopes to take the Travel Club to London, Paris, Florence and Rome next year. She hopes it will become a yearly event.
“If we have the population and the student interest to help sustain it, I think it’s a fantastic opportunity for the students,” said Medeiros-Mayall.
Any high school students interested in joining the Atlantis Travel Club should email Amanda.Medeiros-Mayall@atlantiscs.org for more information.