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Students take trip to Spain over April Break

Ashley Aron, Section Editor

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Last year the school took students on a trip to China, and for this year’s trip, 12 students traveled to different parts of Spain. These parts included Madrid, Toledo, Córdoba, Sevilla, Granada, and Málaga.

Lucy Valteris ‘17, says “the Spain trip was a lot of fun” and “though it was only a week’s worth, [it] was beautiful. I’ve been to Europe before, but not with a school group.”

Students believe that the trip was very beneficial to their Spanish-speaking skills, which they don’t normally get as much practice with in school. They also believe that they were able to experience the culture, which is really immersing oneself into the language.

“I believe my experience in Spain increased my confidence in my spanish-speaking skills more so than my vocabulary or grammatical knowledge. While visiting Spain took my understanding of the culture to a new level, most of what I experienced was expected; the Spanish five honors curriculum teaches a lot about Spanish history and society,” says Valteris.

Valteris’s “favorite part of the trip was the cathedrals” that the students visited. There were five in total that were visited: Santo Tome Church in Toledo, the Mezquita in Córdoba, the Sevilla Cathedral, the Granada Cathedral, and the Málaga Cathedral.

However, the process of planning such an enjoyable trip wasn’t as smooth or easy as it might have felt once students were in Spain.

“I researched about the companies; you pick a company, and we chose Bravo because the prices are competitive and we have used Bravo many times in the past and we always had a very good experience,” says Spanish teacher and chaperone Mercedes Fernandes.

“I contacted Bravo and they put together several packages for us,” “I presented them to Mrs. Deorio. She has to approve it. If she approves it and she says this is viable, we present the whole package of itinerary plus a breakdown of costs to the board of education. It has to go through a committee in the board of education,” says Fernandes.

As with the situation in Belgium, Europe has been under high alert in case another terrorist attack is to occur. This situation has been regarded by the school and there were a lot of precautions taken in deciding to resume the trip.

“We paused and we spoke at length with the organization, Bravo tours, and we had a conference call with him, Mercedes Fernandes, Dan Passarelli, and the superintendent and we asked many different questions to ensure that we felt comfortable with the trip continuing,” says Principal Lisa Deorio.

Fernandes said that during this meeting, they “analyzed the situation and made a decision to move forward.” She said this decision was made about three weeks before the trip.

“Dr. Palmer’s office also contacted Senator Blumenthal’s office regarding Spain. You really want to get a good sense of the warnings, the height of the warning, and again what are the protocols and how would we be able to realistically manage a situation such as that,” says Deorio.

“The state department changed the travel warning to travel advisory–to yellow, so that’s when we discussed it further,” says Fernandes. The travel advisory color usually changes depending on how alert a country is, and it had been red immediately after the attacks. However, it soon changed to yellow, which prompted further discussion.

Valteris says, “Initially, I was slightly concerned about our trip, but I knew the recent events in Belgium wouldn’t affect our visit to Spain at all.” She said she “trusted the school to let us know if the trip was going to be high risk.”

She also believes that the new rules and restrictions on the trip “were strict, but not unmanageable so I expect that the trip would’ve been relatively the same–we were in urban areas in Europe as minors.”

However, Arianna Imperiali ‘18 was “honestly a little scared. I knew I was going to Europe and I was super excited, but when I heard about Belgium I felt a little bit worried about traveling there.” However, she “never considered not going on the trip” and during the actual trip she didn’t “believe any of the activities or travel arrangements were affected.”

Fernandes explains that there are risks in taking any trip: “When something happens, all the airlines are very busy, but what we can do is to make sure that we are safe and because we had the bus with us most of the time, we could take the bus and go to a safer place. We could go to a smaller town in the interior; we could use the bus to move away from whatever fear or threat there would be.”

Fernandes said she got a sense from the parents beforehand that “We can’t leave our lives like this. Anything can happen if you take the train to New York City every day. Of course we tried to predict scenarios: what would we do if something happened in Spain while we were there?”

A meeting was held for parents roughly two weeks before the actual trip to discuss new safety precautions and clear up any questions.

“There were a few students but there were roughly eight to ten parents there. They were not concerned at all,” says Fernandes.

However, Imperiali felt a little concerned, even though she did not go to the meeting herself. “At this point, I was feeling skeptical about the trip, especially because there was a meeting regarding safety procedures in case of an incident like Belgium.”

Fernandes says that “after we had these meetings there were a lot of parents aboard. I never heard from the parents, ‘no, we should not do this.’”

“It’s ironic that we sent them to Spain and took every precaution we could–they were never alone, they had to be with two other people, and when I went to Ecuador and we had fifteen Weston High School students there for Builders Beyond Borders, nothing happened in Spain and in Ecuador we were in a major earthquake,” says Deorio.

Deorio said that during the last time she was in Spain with the students in the 90’s, “something unpredictable happened. There’s a group in Spain called the ETA– it is the vast terrorist group that wants to separate from Spain. When we were there in Madrid, there was a car bomb. We weren’t near it–at the time it was in the morning but there was a car bomb. Imagine you’re a parent and you receive this news–what safety precautions do we do? My point is is that you have to consider that when you chaperone trips and when you move forward that you have to play out contingency plans. What would happen if somebody were hurt? What would you do?”

“One never knows what happens, and that is why it is really important to make sure with our trips with students that you have plans, protocols, that you have staff advisors that are capable of managing a situation,” says Deorio.

Nevertheless, the trip proved to be an enjoyable experience for all.

“While we were there, I totally enjoyed it. I wasn’t stressed out or anything. And it made me feel good that everywhere we went there was a lot of police presence. There were always police patrolling,” says Fernandes.

“I wouldn’t have sent them on that trip if I couldn’t put my daughter on that bus. And I think I felt so comfortable because I knew the trip to that extent. I know the Hotel Mayorazgo. I know the cities you went in. I know the level of quality that that tour company gives. I trust the owner of the company because when we used to go more often, he always planned the trip and I never really worried because of his level of expertise,” says Deorio.

Valteris says if th “I would love to do this again, it was a great experience. We could explore going somewhere else; either somewhere else in Spain, or we could go to a Latin American country,” says Fernandes.

If there is going to be another trip to Europe she would love it because “I love European culture and much of what we learn in class ties into european history.”

Imperiali agrees. “I would definitely go on another Europe trip. The experience was amazing and it would be a lot of fun to do it again.”

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Students take trip to Spain over April Break