Basalt students heading to Africa

Jeanne McGovern
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

BASALT – While many local children will be headed to the beach or hitting the slopes over spring break, a half-dozen Basalt high schoolers will go on a different kind of trip – not to mention the first of its kind for students at the school.

“We’re going to Gambia,” Principal David Schmid said. “It’s been a lot of hard work, but I am proud to say that we are able to bring a group of kids abroad for what should be the experience of a lifetime.”

Schmid helped orchestrate the trip – which will have six students, two teachers and Schmid overseas for almost two weeks beginning Wednesday – after working this summer with Teachers Across Borders in Cambodia. There, Schmid met a teacher from Sweden who had a partnership with educators in Gambia; the teacher was looking to broaden the relationship to include an American school. The rest, as they say, is history.

“I think what we’re trying to say by doing this is that we really value different cultures and diversity within our school and in our world,” said Schmid, who took the helm at Basalt High this school year with the goal of expanding opportunities for students at the forefront of his mind. “My hope is that this really opens our eyes to what it means to be similar and different and to truly value that diversity.”

This week’s trip was the result of a lot of hard work, according to Schmid. First, the school had to form an African Club. When that took off, the wheels began to turn for a spring-break trip to the West African nation of Gambia.

“In the beginning, we just set out to learn about Africa. But everybody got excited about the possibility of going abroad,” Schmid said, noting that the students traveling to Gambia not only had to commit to the club and maintain their grades but had to raise the money for the trip themselves. “It was a very big commitment.”

While in Gambia (officially the Republic of the Gambia), students will spend most of their time in the urban centers of Banjul and Serekunda. And while they will tour schools, the trip is primarily a cultural exchange.

“We will be visiting schools and nurseries and markets,” Schmid said, adding that the students also might travel inland to a more rural village, but that was not yet confirmed. “And we’re not just going as tourists. … We’re taking soccer balls and pens and pipe cleaners and all the things they need to give as gifts. We are going to get to know the people in the places we visit and the way they live.

“I think this will really make our students appreciate all that we do have back at home.”

But what makes this trip particularly unique for Basalt High is that it’s the first of its kind. According to Schmid, while a few seniors have traveled on school trips during the summer in years past, the school has not organized an overseas adventure like this before. Schmid hopes it becomes a trend; he says there is already a list of students and teachers who would like to go next year.

“My hope and dream is that this becomes an annual thing for Basalt High,” he said. “It is such a great opportunity for teachers and students, and I want to be able to offer that in the years to come.”