Evanston Township High School is looking at new ways to organize student trips abroad. The school’s World Languages/Bilingual Department will work with a group based in Washington state that will help address some lingering concerns about the foreign travel experience.

The District 202 Board approved a pilot project with Global Visionaries to organize a cultural immersion program that will take 12 students to Guatemala next July. Global Visionaries, which is run by 1984 ETHS graduate Chris Fontana, is said to “align with the equity work at ETHS and takes place during the summer, so that students will not miss school,” which addresses specific concerns raised by the Board and others.

The District 202 School Board, which reviews all foreign travel proposals, expressed concern at a meeting in May while reviewing other trips that the cost of travel sets up inequities in the program where fewer low-income students could take advantage of the opportunity. Some questioned whether the lost instruction time during the school year was worth it.

“Those things have always been important and have been discussed almost every year when the subject of foreign trip approval comes up, at least in the last 5 years when I have been on the Board,” Board President Gretchen Livingston told the RoundTable.

In the past, the World Language Department has organized several field trips and exchange programs to places like Japan, Germany and Spain to help enhance students’ language experience. This year, however, “due to economic trouble in Spain,” stated a memo to the Board, the annual exchange program there “will not take place.” This prompted department staff to look for other options for a Spanish immersion experience which led them to Global Visionaries.

Interested students can apply to be a part of the program. Twelve will be selected and will reflect the demographics of ETHS in terms of race, income, gender and age. “This is a fundamental objective of the Global Visionaries mission and a key reason we are so enthusiastic about partnering with GV,” said Rachel Gressel, World Languages/Bilingual Department Chair. Scholarships will be given to 6-7 participants and will be based solely on income. The idea is to grow the program after this initial pilot year to include more students in the experience.

Board member Jonathan Baum said during the presentation that he appreciates the “responsiveness” with which the Department had gone about researching and selecting the trip to address concerns. Bill Geiger, board member, said it was “clear” that the group focused on equality, accessibility and the issue of missing school days.

Prior to departing for San Miguel, Guatemala, students will fly to Seattle (where GV is based) to participate in a three-day workshop. The workshop “identifies systematic oppression, racism, sexism, environmental conservation, global citizenry and Guatemalan culture and history.” ETHS hopes to bring this workshop to Evanston for future trips to reduce costs. The cost of the 2015 program is $4,500 per student.

Once in Guatemala, students will work alongside local teens that have gone through a similar leadership program on reforestation projects, long-term care hospital support, school and community center construction work, farming with coffee and rural Mayan farmers. Students will be grouped with other participants and will stay at a local Guatemalan family home. Students will take Spanish lessons daily, although previous Spanish language knowledge is not a requirement.

The program emphasizes community service at home and abroad while promoting understanding of global interconnectedness.

ETHS is also looking at ways to make other immersion experiences more accessible to students. The annual Japanese exchange program “is one of our biggest programs,” Ms. Gressel told the RoundTable. “The composition of students on the trips reflects the composition of students at the school. Students fundraise together; there is a fair share aspect of the program.

“Some trips are during the school year, some in the summer. If students come here from other countries, oftentimes the summer does not work out due to logistical reasons,” Ms. Gressel continued. “I’ve been working with Marcus Campbell to obtain other scholarship opportunities for students to study abroad during the summer. Many of our students have participated in programs through Amigos de las Américas, Council on Education Exchange, and Nicaragua Summer Exchange, to name a few.”