As an independent organization, the Student Travel Club traveled to Rome in 2016. Now the group has been made an official club at Maricopa High School. Coliseum photo by Savannah Hull

By Michelle Chance

A new Maricopa High School club will give students the opportunity to become cosmopolitan early in life.

The Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board approved the creation of the Student Travel Club on Feb. 22.

A week later, on March 2, the club held its first meeting at the high school.

Before its affiliation with the district, Maricopa Student Travel acted independently through the direction of MHS biology teacher Cortney Kellenaers, who founded the group in 2012.

Kellenaers said the push to become associated with MUSD gives the group better accessibility to student meetings, allows the club to organize fundraisers and the ability to create a bank account – with additional opportunities to collect tax credits for a student scholarship fund.

Maricopa Student Travel has journeyed to Europe and Central America through EF Educational Tours, an international agency that supplies tour guides and detailed trips abroad to students, chaperones and their advisors.

The agency also implements safety measures and student rules through a contract. For example, students use a buddy system during organized free time, and they cannot consume alcohol or use tobacco even if they are of legal age in countries that allow it.

Reina Yap (left) and Crystal Turner in Costa Rica in 2013, submitted by Yap.
Reina Yap (left) and Crystal Turner in Costa Rica in 2013, submitted by Yap.

Students who break the rules can be sent home. Kellenaers said he has never had to do it because the teens work hard to afford to get there.

An average trip costs between $3,500 and $5,000 depending where the students travel. Trips to Central America typically cost less than European excursions, Kellenaers said.

“The payment is 100 percent the responsibility of the student,” he said.

So how do they afford it?

In the past, students said they raised money through raffles, part-time jobs and paid-internships.

Savannah Hull, 19, was a high school sophomore when she traveled overseas for the first time, to Spain, with the group in 2014. She held garage sales and packed $5 lunches for her mother’s co-workers to raise the funds.

Hull is now attending ASU and pursuing a degree in chemical engineering. She said traveling opened her eyes to new opportunities.

“I wasn’t sure coming into college what I wanted to major in or where I wanted to go to school, but the one thing I did know was that I wanted to travel,” she said.

Hull plans on studying abroad in South America next summer and said her goal is to land a job that allows her to travel.

Like other students, Hull raised money to travel a second time with the group. In 2016, Maricopa Student Travel toured Switzerland, Italy and France.

“When you travel, the entire world is your classroom.” – teacher Jennifer Miller

Also on that trip was MHS British literature teacher Jennifer Miller. She said international travel helps her students grasp her curriculum.

“When you travel, the entire world is your classroom,” Miller said.

Tanner Glen was 18 when he traveled to Europe. Now 20 and a student at NAU, he studied AP Art History at MHS and said, “It was (an) opportunity I couldn’t miss to actually see the things that we were learning about and applying it in real life.”

Students and teachers said the experience overseas helps teens develop cultural awareness as well.

“It makes them better members of a global society when they are able to see people’s humanity regardless of differences,” Miller said.

Friends Cyrstal Turner and Reina Yap, both 20, went to Costa Rica when they were sophomores at MHS. They said visiting a school in an impoverished area opened their eyes to their own privilege living in the United States.

In fact, Turner said the experience helped solidify her decision to attend college.

“It helped me realize I had the opportunity to do all of this, and not everyone does. So, I felt like I should take advantage of that,” Turner said.

Turner and Yap now attend NAU.

The first trip the group will take as an official school club will be to Paris, Normandy and London in 2018.

London photo by Tanner Glen. He traveled there with Crystal and Reina (and the rest of the group) in 2015.
London photo by Tanner Glen. He traveled there with Crystal and Reina (and the rest of the group) in 2015.

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