A full life means calculated risks
We are writing in response to the article written by John Colson expressing Mr. Guion’s concerns regarding the recent trip by Peter Westcott’s and Matt Field’s sixth-grade classes to Ignacio Allende, Mexico (“Parent: Should Aspen students be sent to ‘war zone’? May 5), as well as subsequent letters to the editor concerning the same topic. We appreciate the community members’ concerns, however, after having just completed the trip we would like to offer a few thoughts.
This was a two-year project for the children in Mr. Westcott’s class and a full year’s project for the children in Mr. Field’s class. The children raised 100 percent of the required funds through wreath sales, used book sales, soccer ball sales, a spaghetti dinner, a bake sale and individual work such as baby sitting, dog walking or yard work. Some children donated money received for birthday gifts or holiday gifts to the cause. Although we supported our children and participated in their activities, no parent “paid” for their child’s trip expenses. The money the children raised even paid for the liability insurance required by the Aspen School District.
The choice of Mexico was made by the children last year. Many places were discussed, but with Mr. Westcott’s strong connection to Ignacio Allende, as well as Aspen’s association with the Mexican state of Chihuahua through the many members of our work force who come from there, it seemed the logical choice. The children discussed the numerous areas that could use their help. They had the opportunity to assist only one place. Ignacio Allende and the surrounding area is where they chose.
Attendance on the trip was not mandatory. Any child could opt out of the trip for any reason. In making a family decision to join the trip, we, too, were concerned about safety. In discussing those issues with both Mr. Westcott and Diana Sirko, school superintendent, it became apparent safety was their primary goal. This was Mr. Westcott’s fourth trip to Ignacio Allende, an area he knows well and in which he has many friends. The adult chaperone to child ratio was almost one to one.
Our initial crossing into Mexico was made very early on Sunday morning when the streets of Juarez were largely deserted. The children did not walk across the bridge into Mexico, but changed buses in El Paso and rode across the border. Unlike past years’ trips, the return stop in Juarez was truncated. The area we visited in Mexico was remote and agrarian. It felt as safe as Aspen, but our Mexican hosts were ever mindful of our safety, leading us to our evening activities, making sure we knew where we were supposed to be and how to get there each day, offering to drive us wherever we needed to go.
Most importantly, a full life requires the ability to take calculated risks. A search for total safety results in a small, colorless life. We all take a risk each day that we click into our skis and seek that perfect run, but we would never relinquish that activity. It is one of the aspects of our lives that makes them rich and vibrant. Likewise, the trip to Mexico painted our lives in the same vivid reds, purples, pinks and oranges that we painted their classrooms. We spoke poor Spanish; we spoke simple English; we gestured with our hands. We worked. We danced. We laughed, and when we left, we cried. We established friendships we will work to maintain. We learned about Mexican culture and lifestyle, but we also learned about ourselves and our American way of life. We answered some questions about our Mexican friends and generated some questions about ourselves and our government. Our visit added depth to our lives.
Yes, there was a small amount of risk, but we were mindful of that risk and mitigated it to the extent possible. In the end, we returned safe but also broadened, enhanced, changed by our experience. What better gift could we give our largely isolated and protected children?
This year a select few eighth-grade students were invited to join our travels. Our hope is that we will receive that same, cherished, invitation in two years time.
Sheila Kennedy Wills
and Matt Wills
Peter Westcott’s class
Aspen Middle School