OPINION: Salida School Board Should Have Said ‘Yes’ to Cuba Trip

The Salida School Board majority has voted to nix a trip to Cuba for Crest Academy students, because it was deemed “too risky”.

I quote Sam Liebl’s January 19 article in The Mountain Mail:

Kyle Earhart, who is president of the board, said discussion of the trip was a “hard conversation for the board.”

“We encourage our kids to dream,” said Earhart, “but the issue of permitting a school trip to Cuba was very personal because of family ties to people who died in that country.” 

What?

The Crest Academy is a public school of choice for grades 5-8 with a focus on Project Based Learning.  From their website:

While traditional classroom practices consist of short, isolated, teacher-centered lessons, Project Based Learning (PBL) emphasizes learning activities that are long-term, interdisciplinary, student-centered, and integrate authentic, real world issues and practices.

In Project Based education students try to answer questions that have relevance to their own lives and relate to real community and world issues. They do research using a variety of resources, interview community members, conduct surveys, build models and take field trips… 

Sounds to me that a trip to Cuba is right in line with Crest Academy’s mission to educate their students.

Here’s a link to the Crest Academy students making a presentation to City Council  in June 2013, to wrap Tenderfoot Mountain in plastic bags – intended to be an anti-plastic bag statement, and a Guinness world record.

These kids are smart and mature and have been nurtured to explore the world by the Crest Academy environment.

Yet, the Salida school board said “no” to their well-thought-out educational trip to Cuba.

When I was a senior in high school (Walt Whitman High School, Bethesda MD), our spring trip was a two week trip behind the Iron Curtain. It was led and chaperoned by two history teachers and a Spanish teacher. We went to Prague, Moscow, Leningrad, East and West Berlin, Warsaw, and ended up in London. I don’t know how the teachers obtained visas to travel to those destinations during the Cold War, but somehow they did.

Many of my friends’ parents wouldn’t allow them to go. They deemed it too risky. Fortunately, my parents weren’t all that fond of me, and willingly signed the liability release forms. The trip, which cost well under $1000 for all expenses, was paid for out of my “college account”.

I can’t put into words how much that trip impacted and broadened my thinking about the world, world politics, and people who grew up in countries under communist rule. For example, I realized that Junior Scholastic magazine, with the message that all communists are bad people, was a propagandist vehicle.

I learned that kids my age in Prague happily lived in households that had just one bathroom, and were perplexed that my house had 2.5 bathrooms. Why, they asked?

I made a friend in Prague named Pavel, who wanted to be a doctor, even though he would not be compensated much for it. We were pen pals, until Prague Spring, when I thought it would endanger him to write. After the Berlin Wall came down, I wrote him, and learned that he did indeed become a doctor, and was married to a doctor.

I experienced the thrill of risking arrest when I took pictures at Checkpoint Charlie from our bus.

I saw the shame in the German youths’ eyes, even though they were not alive during the Holocaust. I saw the Warsaw Ghetto. I saw Lenin, perfectly preserved under glass in Red Square.

I saw Peter the Great’s boots and desk. He was a big guy!

I saw the bust of Nefertiti in one of many art museums I had the privilege to visit. She was beautiful.

Those are just a few memories. When I got back to Bethesda, I spoke to teen groups about the trip and what it meant to me, and how it changed my thinking about the world.

I could go on, but this isn’t about my unconventional trip that changed my life. It’s about depriving the Crest Academy students of a similar experience that will change their lives, and broaden their minds.

I ask that the school board reconsider, and approve the trip to Cuba. Maybe they should go, too. It may do wonders for their attitude on education.

Cynda Green

Cynda Green is an investigative reporter who enjoys writing about various and sundry topics, least of which is politics. But someone has to do it. Contact: cyndagreen@gmail.com