BEMIDJI - Voyageurs Expeditionary High School was able to get back to their mission to provide hands on learning to its students at the end of its school year, getting students away from their textbooks and into places like Florida, Chicago, and the Black Hills of S.D.
"I am sure it would have been cool just to go see Washington (D.C.) but the fact that we got to do it with our school and the people that we have gotten to know almost like a family is very special," Ben Bauman said about the opportunity.
Voyageurs staff member Julie Johnson-Willborg said it was nice to get the school back to the school's vision after a few years of not being able to afford to send students on these trips. With the fundraising efforts of nearly 40 students and staff and the curriculum planning, students were able to choose one of four different trips. The Washington D.C. trip was focused on politics and government, the Florida trip was focused on biology and ecosystems, the South Dakota trip focused on some of the historical locations and the Chicago trip gave students a hands on experience in city life and the public transpiration system.
Eleven students attended the Washington D.C. trip, which was scheduled in conjunction with the Close Up Conference, which invites schools from around the country to D.C. to teach them how to debate and give them an opportunity to meet their State Senators. In addition to the Cloe Up events, the students had an opportunity to roam the city and see many of the monuments, which held special meaning to Bauman.
"It was a special opportunity that our school gave us because my dad is a Vietnam veteran and he said that he would give anything to go see some of the stuff like the Vietnam memorial," Bauman said. "It is sad that he didn't get a chance but I feel blessed that our school gives us the chance to go out and travel and see things that a lot of people will never get to see."
The experience was something new for all of the 11 students; even riding an airplane was new for a majority of them. Eleventh grader Jesilee Rare said that she chose the Washington D.C. trip because she is interested in politics and specifically how it works and how the politicians think. Her favorite part of the trip was getting to meet Sen. Al Franken.
"For me that is pretty big for someone like Al Franken to tell me that I am a really good person and that I ask really good questions," Rare said. "I just thought that was pretty impressive."
Twelve students went on the Florida trip, which taught students the importance of estuaries, which are partly enclosed coastal body of water with rivers and streams flowing into it. The trip started at the top of the watershed, at the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed. There they saw four different ecosystems within a four mile walk, seeing a variety of animals including giant grasshoppers and Red Velvet Ants, which were described by Aria Churchill as furry flightless wasps.
From the CREW, they canoed down the Estero River where some students saw manatees. Emily Bohlmann, a 10th grader on the trip said the Oak Hammock ecosystem was the favorite part of the trip because of the jungle feel it had.
"The first thing I thought of was Tarzan because of all the big old trees that kind of swooped into each other," "Bohlmann said. "It reminded me of how he swooped on vines from tree to tree."
Trip supervisor, Becky Reinarz said when she was thinking of a place to schedule the trip she wanted to choose a place that the students could relate to from their time in biology class but some students admitted the fact that they were going to Florida played a role into their choice to go on the trip.
"You just don't get to see palm trees every day," Rian Grotberg said.
For students who did not want to fly or just simply did not want to pay to fly, the school offered two trips closer to home; Chicago and the Black Hills.
The Chicago trip gave students the opportunity to experience life in a big city. Students took the Amtrak to the city, which was first time experience for many of them.
The group saw all of the normal sites including Navy Pier, the Sears Tower and others.
"I got to go out on my own for a while and it was nice to be a little more independent in a really big city," 11th grader Amanda VanderHeyden said.
The South Dakota trip was may have seemed a little longer, as students traveled by car from Bemidji to the Blackhills but the students did not seem to mind the long hours.
"The trip was a lot of fun, we got to spend a lot of time getting to know each other in the car, playing games and just talking," Ilsa Thooft said. "A lot of us didn't know each other before the trip but by the end we were all pretty good friends."
The group visited Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, the Corn Palace, and Deadwood and learned about Native American mythology.
The student's all said they picked the trip because it was cheaper than flying to Washington D.C. or Florida, but also because their teacher Troy Johnson was really enthusiastic about the trip and influenced the students' decisions.
"Voyageurs is really generous and understanding about the money that it takes for these trips," Chris Boucher said. "They gave us plenty of fundraising opportunities, which allowed us to pay for the trip and even have some extra spending money."