Stuart Hedstrom • March 21, 2019
MILO — Next month a half dozen Penquis Valley High School students will be immersed in a different culture and environment, switching from pine tree forests to rainforests, as they spend April vacation in Central America on their “Exploring Costa Rica’s Natural Wonders” trip with Spanish teacher Michele Cabral through EF Education Tours.
For most of the half dozen juniors and seniors, the trip will be their first outside the U.S and for each it will be a first-time journey to a tropical climate when they visit the nation of approximately five million located between two oceans April 13-19. The group is scheduled to zipline through the rain forest, take a local cooking class, help in a school, visit natural parks and more.
“I’m excited to see a different country,” senior Cymeria Robshaw said.
“I’m excited to eat different food and go snorkeling,” classmate Katelyn Bostridge said. “It will really be great to actually see all of the things we have been learning about in (science teacher Katie Joyner-Roberston’s) Environmental Bio class. I can’t wait!”
“I’m most excited for the adventure, zip lining and snorkeling,” senior Camryn Rolfe said.
Junior Sydney Fowles is also looking forward to snorkeling, the trip is set to include an underwater visit to a Pacific coast reef, “and seeing a different part of the world.”
“I’m excited to get out of the country and see what the world has to offer and see another country,” junior Hope Grant said.
“Since I have been in Maine my whole life I want to see a different ecosystem and different animals,” junior Emily Herbest said.
Cabral said this will be the first trip abroad for a group from Penquis Valley in over a decade. She said last year the students, most of whom have taken her Spanish classes, decided they wanted to see a tropical rainforest and experience another culture in person.
“They are really the ones working to make this happen,” Cabral said. “They have been excited from the beginning, they have been initiating fundraisers and helping each other get there.”
The per pupil trip cost is $2,680. Cabral said the six have averaged about two fundraisers per month since the end of the last school year and so far have raised about 40 percent of their individual costs.
They have sold quesadillas at the annual Black Fly Festival and at numerous school events, sold Yankee Candles for Christmas, raffled off a handmade afghan donated by a local resident as well as doggy and kitty treat baskets and will be hosting a student talent show on Friday, March 29. They have conducted a pair of boot drives, two 3-on-3 basketball tournaments, an ongoing bottle drive, an event at Bissell Brothers Three Rivers and a Spanish dinner for the Three Rivers Kiwanis. Most of the Costa Rica travelers have worked on the weekends to help fund their trips.
The support from the SAD 41 member communities has been vital for the students’ fundraising.
“I feel like they’re really supportive,” Robshaw said. “It’s nice, it’s something they really think is important.”
Bolstridge said the community is helping them go on a trip they would be unable to do otherwise.
“These students have been very committed to their dream of traveling and our community has been extremely giving,” Cabral said. “We had a situation where a family committed to the trip for their daughter and then suffered a financial crisis that left them in a really bad situation. When I heard that they could not afford to apply for their daughter’s passport, I started asking some questions.
“We found out that things were getting really tough for them and they were in a predicament where not only would their daughter not be able to go on the trip, but they would have lost all of the money that they put in because it had gotten too late.”
“That is when community members started handing me money anonymously to give to the family and a local coach (Cabral’s husband Mike) hosted a softball day for all of his players to raise money for the family. The Kiwanis also created a substantial scholarship for this student. Her family finally just paid off her trip, with a great sigh of relief.”
“I have family in Costa Rica, my grandmother was Costa Rican,” Cabral said about a reason for the destination choice. She has a cousin living there with children similar in age to the Penquis Valley students.
“For the first trip I wanted that comfortable feeling,” Cabral said. “It is a country that is very focused on its environment and I think Maine has that same focus.”
She said the country has a saying “Pura Vida!” or pure life meaning “nature is life and we live naturally.” Cabral said in most Spanish-speaking nations the word refresco means soda, but in Costa Rica it is a freshly-made fruit smoothie.
“It is a great fit for our students, they are all taking Environmental Bio,” she said, mentioning each of the six are enrolled in AP classes, play multiple sports and are involved in many extracurricular clubs. “They are learning about the rain forest and environment before we even go.”
Cabral said they are scheduled to fly out of Boston at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 13. After a stop in Baltimore, the group will continue to the capital of San Jose after about six hours of traveling. The Penquis contingent will be joining other EF Education Tour groups later in the day but first they will be able to explore the city on their own.
The early morning takeoff could have meant that the group headed down from Milo during the very early morning hours but Cabral said local doctor Jean Hamlin, MD — who is a graduate of Penquis Valley — gave a donation to enable the students to stay in Boston the evening before.
“They are going to be able to explore one of the great cities that night,” Cabral said. “They are going to see the aquarium and have dinner at Faneuil Hall, her check made all of that possible.”
Cabral hopes to make trips aboard a more regular opportunity for Penquis Valley students. She said the next excursion could be in 2021.
“The trip I would like to do is Paris, Madrid and Barcelona,” Cabral said, saying this visit to Europe could also involve the art department similar to how the Costa Rican experience will utilize the students’ science lessons. “I think travel is the best education, I really do. Yout practice what you have learned.”