School board approves Costa Rica field trip
by Kellen Short
Despite some hesitation and words of caution Monday from the interim superintendent, the Board of Education gave unanimous approval for a high school field trip to Costa Rica in April 2014.
The 10-day trip will allow students in grades 10 through 12 to travel to the Central American country with Immersion Abroad Costa Rica. Students will stay with host families while learning Spanish, exploring historic sites, taking classes, participating in service projects and experiencing the food and culture.
WHS teacher David Knight, who will lead the trip, said he expects about 35 to 40 students to go and hopes to begin signing up students soon.
"This is something our students need to do, because we're talking about global learning and 21st-century skills," Knight said.
Knight said that while he has traveled in a group of teachers with Immersion Abroad before, he has not taken students on a trip with this company. He has guided church youth groups abroad before, he said.
"I think you've covered most of the bases that we as parents or teachers don't even think of," said board member Barbara Kinsey.
Interim Superintendent David Fonseca questioned Knight about how staff would keep the students safe and secure on the international trip, especially since they won't be combined in one hotel. He pointed out that the legal drinking age there is 18.
Knight pointed to the agreements host families sign, and noted that several WHS administrators will be present to enforce expectations for students. He also provided a list of other school systems that have used the program as references.
Fonseca said he would prefer more time to review the request.
"Part of my job is to worry when there's nothing to worry about," he said.
The board voted unanimously to approve the field trip, while also allowing Fonseca to further review the information for any red flags.
The board also continued discussion Monday on school safety following last week's bomb threat.
Fonseca explained several things the system learned through the process but said he considered the overall evacuation a success.
WHS senior Patrick Williamson, the student representative on the board, offered a different opinion on what he called an "eye-opening experience."
"I felt like at the high school, the students and faculty that I talked to, they thought the whole day was pretty chaotic and there was a lack of communication between a lot of people," he said. "Most people that I talked to thought it made it pretty apparent how unprepared we would be."
Fonseca mentioned several things the school system will consider, including using emergency vests and more consistent ID tags across schools so law enforcement can quickly distinguish school staff from the public.
Checkout procedures from the schools' safe locations need to be refined so there are no questions after a student is released to his or her parents.
The school system also will look into specialized training for principal and teachers, who would be expected to assist in building sweeps for suspicious items.
"It is not the most optimal of situations, but I think our people responded bravely and appropriately," Fonseca said.
The board also:
-- Received updates on the Caldwell Community College Dream Award program and the high school graduation rate.
-- Approved contracts with Watauga Opportunities and the Boone Roundball Classic tournament. The basketball contract was approved following discussion in closed session.
-- Received a brief update on technology efforts and facilities.
-- Approved on first reading changes to the Distance Learning Policy and approved on second reading changes to the Community Use of School Facilities and Use of Automated Phone Messages policies.
-- Discussed options for a widescale policy update.
-- Met in closed session to discuss reportable offenses, student records and personnel.