From costa rica to new zealand, boston school field trips increasingly take students abroad – the boston globe gas bike alley


Across Boston, students are increasingly traveling overseas on field trips — part of a concerted effort to get them to broaden their outlook on life. The school system often turns to outside organizations to help pay for the trips, helping to double the number of students traveling overseas and vastly expand the number of schools offering trips.

In a system like Boston, where about half of the 56,000 students live in poverty, the trips help to even the playing field between city kids and some of their affluent suburban peers, whose family vacations and school trips can take them to Paris, London, or Rome.

Boston Green Academy students have journeyed into the hilltops of Guatemala to help impoverished families install stoves and water filtration systems. New Mission High School basketball players have gone to China to compete. Madison Park Technical Vocational High School students have flown to the Dominican Republic to teach the importance of oral hygiene, washing hands, and planning meals.

The increase comes amid heightened concerns over terrorism, causing school systems to increasingly rely on such specialized companies to organize trips. These companies have the ability to change itineraries if world events arise; some can even switch destinations to other regions in the world.

“You would be surprised how little of an impact world events have had,” said Kate Berseth, executive vice president at EF. “We are being sensitive about the destinations we are going to, but I also think because there is terrorism everywhere, even in the US, people are being careful and aware, but people are not stopping what they are doing.”

The Boston public school system began ramping up foreign travel in 2010 after then-superintendent Carol Johnson established the office of global education. Johnson was inspired by a student exchange between Ghana and Boston and wanted more students to have similar opportunities.

Since then, the Boston School Committee has pushed to ensure the trips are educationally based — encouraging students to stay with host families, perform community service, or study something unique about a country, such as its culture, politics, or environment.

“I’m impressed every time I see a service trip where kids can immerse themselves in the culture and do something like build a water supply or housing,” said Michael Loconto, School Committee chairman. “I’d like to see us continue to push the envelope on what we can have our kids do and learn.”

Some of the growth in travel has happened organically among teachers and administrators. Kris Grymonpre, a science teacher, had traveled to Costa Rica when he was a teacher at Young Achievers in Mattapan, and he loved the experience so much that when he moved to the McCormack Middle School, he decided to lead trips there.

The McCormack serves about 370 students in grades 6-8 in the Harbor Point area of Dorchester, and many live in some of the most violent neighborhoods in Boston. Some 90 percent of students live in poverty, have a disability, or do not speak English fluently.

More than a dozen students packed a conference room at the McCormack recently and talked exuberantly about their nine-day experience in Costa Rica. The trip cost $600 per student, with another portion of the cost provided by O2 For Life Rainforest Foundation, which has a 500-acre rain forest in Costa Rica, where staff helped the students research scientific concepts, wildlife, and ecosystems.