Education

Rahway Board of Education Opens Door to International Travel for French Students

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Dining and dancing Old World style. Credits: Katherine Turon-Debicki
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Joel Pryor (Center) enjoys learning with classmates. Front: Justine Ortiz-Gonzalez, Arionna Sterling, Kevin Baker, Arya Abdollahi, Rear: Colleen Clarke, Caroline Mull, Andres Barco Credits: Katherine Turon-Debicki
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Students enjoying an afternoon of sights and sounds. Credits: Katherine Turon-Debicki
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RAHWAY, NJ - Until now, it had never crept into Rahway Academy 8th grader Joel Pryor’s thoughts that he, as he has recently come to realize, “lived in a box.”  Not surprisingly, it was those on whom he relied for an education who unlocked the door so that he could discover a new world beyond it.  With the full and enthusiastic support of Rahway’s Board of Education and school superintendent Dr. Patricia Camp, Joel headed north during Spring break with 19 other students from Rahway’s Academy and High School, along with their French teacher Rob Kinch and three other RHS teachers, to explore the beauty, charm, and history of  Canada’s French-speaking Old World Quebec City.  Quoting beloved novelist Mark Twain, Dr. Camp was in full support of Twain’s warning to students, “Don’t let school get in the way of your education.”

For many of the students, like Joel, this was a first step outside their home state and, with it, came a whole world of discovery apart from geography, historical facts, and picture-perfect sights.  Board of Ed. President Lori Kennedy, who gave an immediate and much welcomed ‘thumbs up’ to the students’ proposed trip, recognized that, “there is nothing better than to soak in the experiences of a place so very different from the students’ own everyday environment.”  RHS 9th grader Adiana Czerniak definitely agreed.  “This trip allowed me to escape from Rahway and gain knowledge and new experiences.  I was actually able to live in a totally different culture and society!”  Andrew Santacruz found that his Canadian adventure “taught us how important it is to realize how different the rest of the world is to us…while still being in many ways the same.”

For their French teacher Mr. Kinch, there was also an equally important goal he hoped his students would achieve.  “Along with all the obvious academic benefits afforded by the trip to our students, I also wanted this to be an opportunity for them to make discoveries about themselves.”  One of the ways he pursued this goal was to create the ‘cell phone rule’ whereby students were only permitted the use of their phones and/or electronic devices 1 ½ hours before bed each night.  “This way students could be totally ‘present’ throughout the trip, with no distractions.  Much to their surprise, they actually had to TALK to one another!”  Free from the pressures of being constantly ‘connected’ and free to forge new friendships and see the world in a different light, students reveled in such group activities as walking about and savoring the Old City, speaking the language, enjoying authentic cuisine at local restaurants, creating original ‘chef-d’oeuvres’ at the Albert Gilles Copper Studio, and spending an evening together of dining, playing the ‘spoons’ and dancing to accordion music at the Érablière le Chemin du Roy (a local maple syrup farm), followed by an evening buggy ride through the dark, snowy, and mysterious Canadian countryside.

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Being part of all the trip’s diverse activities, RHS sophomore Jessmary Lora discovered that, “I can be really amiable and expressive around new people.  I adapted myself to ask questions and learn more about others.”  Similarly, Andres Barco came to recognize that he had always been “very reclusive, rarely ever leaving the comfort of my home.”  He admits that, “This trip taught me to actually break out of my shell and try hard to participate and have new and fun experiences.”  Arya Abdollahi, normally preferring the company of a few close friends, found that he “liked being in a group – and in some ways a team.”  He adds, “I also liked how I would tap into the classical side of myself…appreciating the music, the atmosphere, etc.”

The whole concept of ‘being on a field trip’ never entered the consciousness of either student or chaperone as they enjoyed together an itinerary filled with myriad sights, sounds, and tastes.  High School Accounting teacher and chaperone Maria Dagiantis commented, “It was a VERY easy trip!  The students were where they were supposed to be when they were supposed to be there, always acting like young adults…mainly because they were treated like adults and easily assumed the role.”  RHS sophomore Lourdes Sanon definitely agreed.  “It was more of a bonding experience for all of us, not a ‘field’ trip.  Doing double duty as chaperone and official photographer for the Canadian adventure, RHS Art teacher Katherine Turon-Debicki clearly recognized that the intended goals for the students were successfully met.  “The students became one with their environment while they were absorbing the personality and wisdom that is Old Quebec.”

The students extend their deepest appreciation to the Board of Education and to their Superintendent for having the confidence in them to make this first international travel experience a success and hope this will be just the first of many future international adventures.  High school junior Asa Coleman speaks for all when she offers, “ I now fully understand that the perspective from which we view life is not the only one.”   Paris, anyone?

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