Cultural exchange brings visitors from Mexico

John ColsonAspen, CO Colorado
A Mexican student and Annie Parker of Aspen painting the walls of a school.

ASPEN They’re not coming to ski, or to spend a lot of money, or to look for work, and they probably don’t know as much about the rich and glitzy side of Aspen as your average tourist.On April 2, 19 students and 21 teachers and administrators from rural Chihuahua, Mexico, are coming to Aspen for a week-long educational and cultural visit, as the guests of the fifth-graders in Peter Westcott’s class at the Aspen Middle School.”It’s a very big cultural experience, and it will help them learn about different places of the world,” said class member Ben Belinski. The Mexicans will be hosted by the families of the class, and possibly by the families of past participants, Westcott said, and the locals involved are expecting their guests to be amazed by what they see here.

“I think it’s really going to be shocking, because where they live it’s just this dry space of land. Two rooms of our school might be like a whole school to them,” said Maddie Joy, a class member. Three times in the past seven years, Westcott has taken his students to remote places in Chihuahua, Mexico to perform service work, such as painting schools, or building kitchens and bookcases. This is the first time that Mexicans from the same area have come to Aspen.”The purpose of this visit is both cultural and educational, but the students are going to make sure that it is fun as well,” said Westcott.”We’re going to make sure it’s not boring,” added class member Sam Alexander. “We’ll take them skiing, have lots of parties and get them into town.”

Class members have been busy planning activities, including a swimming party at a parent’s house, a coffee house, tours of the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, a trip to the Aspen Art Museum, and a party at the Aspen Youth Center.In addition, “We’re probably going to exchange stories and knowledge about their town and where they live,” remarked student Liam Keelty. Westcott said that two days of the kids’ visit will be spent in the classroom, with bilingual lessons and group projects. The visiting adults have a different schedule than the children, Westcott noted. He explained that the teachers and administrators, many of whom have less formal training to become a teacher that they would receive in the United States, are here to get a sense of the American education system and to seek out ideas they can take back to their own schools in Mexico. The visiting educators will be visiting classrooms at the Waldorf School on the Roaring Fork outside Carbondale, and the Basalt public schools, as well as the Aspen public schools. In Aspen, they will meet with Superintendent Diana Sirko and the school board, and with English Language Learners (ELL) teachers. The class has raised roughly $6,500 to cover the visiting group’s travel costs, which are low because they will be using a three-stage bus ride, taking about 24 hours of travel time to make the trip. It’s the same way the Aspen kids get to Mexico on their service trips to keep costs down and ensure that more money goes directly into the aid. Fund-raising sources have included a Christmas wreath sale, a used-book sale and donations.

The kids are still working on raising money for their service trip down to the Chihuahuan towns next year.”Our goal is about $20,000,” said student Michaela Voss. “It will be used to buy things like textbooks and things that they need that they don’t have and also to cover the cost of our trip.” Each student in the class is responsible for raising $250 on his own to contribute to the fund-raising.John Colson’s e-mail address is