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Taking a Bite Out Of the World: Local Students Raise Money for School Trip to France

By Linda Laino

Without a sign, in a somewhat nondescript building and nestled on a tiny street in colonia Guadalupe is the Victoria Robbins School, named for its directora and affectionately known as “Vic’s.” With approximately 55 students, it has quietly served as an alternative haven of education in San Miguel for almost 30 years. Although the quality of education offered surpasses what many might receive in other schools here or in the US, what Vic’s affords its students can’t be measured in test scores or what might otherwise pass as high achievement. The students here, who often resemble a boisterous but loving family, are taught to think and explore, to question what makes them tick and why, and to follow their passion.

Community Fundraiser
“Vers la France”
Sat, Jan 28, 1–5pm
Geek & Coffee
Fábrica La Aurora
Contact Lori Greene at lori.greene@allegion.com for ticket information

This year five upper-level students—Julian, Oriana, Aliya, Lucy, and Jonah—are following their passion across the Atlantic to France. These five students, studying French with their teacher Coralie Hostiou, have set their sights on making a trip to Paris and Bordeaux during the school’s spring break in April.

Many kids at Vic’s speak Spanish and English fluently. This group is working to add a third language to their repertoire, thus substantially improving their chances of interconnected experiences—not to mention job opportunities—as they enter adulthood.

I sat down with the students to ask them about the process of organizing this trip and what they hoped to gain by it. First of all, since not one of them has ever been to France, for this otherwise well-travelled group, the prospect of adding another stamp in their passports was enough excitement on its own. “I’ve never been to France and never left North America!” exclaimed Julian, a native Canadian but longtime resident of San Miguel. “It’ll be cool to experience a different culture.”

Lucy, who has grown up in San Miguel with her Mexican father and American mother sees the opportunity to enhance her other interests in addition to language. “I have always loved traveling and learning about history.” Citing French history as a favorite subject, she hopes that the Palace of Versailles will be on their list of sites to see. “I love learning about royalty.”

Aliya, an American/Moroccan student, understands that the best way to learn a language is by full immersion. An aspiring writer, she realizes that having life experiences to mine is essential to that vocation. “I plan on writing about each day, so that I can always remember it.”

Teenagers are often thought of as irresponsible or expecting things to be handed to them. Not this group! A GoFundMe campaign has provided much of the needed funding but the students have been tireless in coming up with ways to raise money, from holding bake sales every week at school to advertising a French movie night to the public, shown on a big white “screen” they painted on a terrace wall for easy viewing. While the rest of the school has been enjoying all the weekly sweets, the monetary rewards have added up cookie by cookie. Even though he admits to not doing the actual baking, Julian realized, “I’ve learned that you can make a lot of money by selling cookies!” Lucy, who has led the charge of confection sales, remembers a French great aunt who inspired her interest in baking when she was young. No surprise that sampling the multitude of French pastries is on her bucket list.

Tapping into the well of artistic talent well-known in San Miguel, the students are also organizing an art auction in January to raise additional funds.

Shortly after beginning the campaign, an exciting development catapulted the trip and the enthusiasm in high gear. According to Jonah, “When we began, I started to doubt that we would raise enough money to go to France. But a very generous man donated his air miles so now we don’t have to pay for our tickets.” Perhaps this generous donor first saw how hard the students were working on their own. Here, they also learned something about human nature, basic kindness, and asking for what you want. Jonah continues, “It just showed me that being nice to other people and how you treat other people can really affect what you want to get done.”

When asked how the donor’s gift impacted the group, he concludes, “He taught us to put the ‘bait in the water.’ He said you need to make an effort and then you will be paid for that effort.”

All five airline tickets are paid (plus those for 3 teachers), yet the students still need funds for lodging and food. They have a momentum and an obligation to keep up the campaign work in order to be worthy of such a wonderful gift.

As anyone who has studied a foreign language knows, taking it from the classroom to the streets is a whole other level. Of course, the point of this trip is to throw the students into that area, sink or swim. While Aliya admits that her French “definitely needs work,” she also maintains that “I feel pretty confident, like I could figure it out if I got lost.” Citing language confidence when she is alone, Lucy admits, “When I have to say something in front of other people, I kind of stutter and freak out a little!” Perhaps Julian, who says he is jumping in fairly late to French, understands the most common language of all, “I am pretty sure I can just … smile.” Smiling they are all doing, as this trip has gone from a pipe dream to reality in a matter of months.

It is always refreshing to see teenagers taking a bite out of the world. The kinds of students who are drawn to Victoria Robbins School seem particularly adept at enjoying the global meal. Travel, particularly for the young, fosters an understanding of and compassion for the world that only firsthand experience can achieve. Learning to communicate in different languages teaches us that we are more alike than different. What better lesson can we as parents and educators hope to pass on?

Creating this opportunity for themselves has taught these students another valuable lesson: that accomplishing a goal, no matter how difficult, is a doable endeavor with hard work, collaboration, and even a bit of magic. Lucy sums it up: “I think what we have been able to pull off so far is amazing. It’s that quote that’s really cheesy that everyone says that if you really put your mind to it you can do anything.”

If you’d like to contribute to the students’ GoFundMe campaign, please visit gofundme.com/our-trip-to-france to make a donation. Be sure to attend the silent and live art auction fundraiser, “Vers la France,” Saturday, January 28, 1–5pm at Geek & Coffee, Fábrica La Aurora. Contact Lori Greene at lori.greene@allegion.com for ticket information.

Linda Laino is an artist, writer, and teacher living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, for almost 5 years now. She loves playing with words as much as form and color. Finding beautiful things on the ground is a favorite pastime. Her artwork can be seen at lindalaino.com.  Some of her writing can be found on the web sites Elephant Journal and Life in 10 Minutes, as well as in The New Engagement.

 

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