A year ago, some of the teachers at Weehawken High School came up with the idea to travel Europe, as a way for the students to learn more about the language and culture of France and Spain in conjunction with their study of foreign language.
But the initial idea was conceived by Rob Kinch, who left the Weehawken school district for another position last summer. Some worried that the idea would fall by the wayside.
“When Mr. Kinch left, I thought the idea of the trip was over,” said junior Richa Goel. “I figured we weren’t going to be able to go.”
However, teachers Linda Shertel and Kate Kitzie would not allow the dream to die.
“Mrs. Shertel took the bull by the horns,” Goel said.
They presented a plan to Superintendent of Schools Kevin McLellan and Weehawken High School Principal Dr. Peter Olivieri, asking permission to take the students on a 10-day journey during their spring break.
Olivieri didn’t just applaud the idea. He decided to go along as a chaperone.
So on April 5, after months of planning and penny-pinching, 36 Weehawken High School students and 12 adult chaperones boarded a British Airways flight to tour Paris, Provence and Barcelona.
The students all paid their own way, although the Martin Roti Fund gave each student $500 toward the cost of airfare, hotel accommodations, meals, transfers and special amenities.
The fund also enabled some students who would not have been able to afford the trip a great opportunity.
The Roti Trust Fund is the bequest of former Weehawken High School custodian Marty Roti, whose desire was to see the funds used to benefit the students whom he befriended throughout his many years of service to the district.
The trip was organized between Shertel and a group called EF Educational Tours, which specializes in school trips abroad.
“The logistics of planning and executing travel plans for 48 people can be overwhelming,” Shertel said. “But EF has it down to a science. It made my job much easier.”
The teachers had several meetings with the parents months in advance to address certain issues like passport documentation, currency exchange, pre-paid phone cards to make calls back home and other safety issues – all while getting to know the people who would chaperone the students while in Europe.
The first stop on the tour was Paris. The students went to see all the major tourist attractions and landmarks, like the Cathedral at Notre Dame, the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay. They also enjoyed an evening cruise on the Seine River to see “The City of Lights,” and climbed to the top of the Eiffel Tower.
“I really liked the Louvre the most,” junior Chris Dorman said. “I was seeing things I only dreamed of seeing.”
Senior Gina Chedid loved so many facets of Paris.
“The architecture is amazing,” Chedid said. “It’s such an old city with all the fine buildings. That really impressed me. And the fashion scene was spectacular. Seeing all the different styles and labels, I was definitely in my glory.”
On the third day, the students and chaperones boarded the famous TGV “fast train” for a three-hour ride to Avignon, the capital of Provence.
The trip to Provence had a variety of interesting angles, like a visit to the Palais de Papes, which was built in 1309. They saw views of the Pont du Gard, which is a Roman aqueduct built more that 2,000 years ago and they received an impromptu less on the harvesting of olives.
After going to France, the group traveled by bus to Barcelona.
In Spain, they saw the famed Palau Nacional, saw the historic Barcelona marinas of Port Vell and Moll D’Espana and then had a chance to see the Picasso Museum, which featured more than 3,000 of artist Pablo Picasso’s work.
“I really loved the Picasso Museum the best,” Chedid said. “I’m into painting and sketching and going there meant so much to me.”
“The people in Spain were really nice,” Goel said. “They treated us well.”
“I liked the scenery in Spain,” Dorman said. “I was glad to be there.
The students and chaperones all returned home safely on April 15, definitely fortunate to have had the chance to go abroad.
“The furthest trip I ever made in my life before was Florida,” Chedid said. “Not many people can say they’ve been to Europe, especially at a young age. It was such a great opportunity. We waited for this trip for what seemed like forever and then it went by so quickly. It was so exciting.”
“It’s a lot more fun going on a trip like this with your friends instead of your family,” Dorman said. “I’ll never forget it. I feel very lucky to have had this chance.”
Shertel was happy that the hard work and effort to organize the trip went well.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Shertel said, “For the students and the adults as well.”
It was such a great trip that Olivieri plans on making a European vacation a biannual event, which means that the current freshmen and sophomores better start saving their pennies now.
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at either OGSMAR@aol.com or firstname.lastname@example.org