More mature citizen, more mature student: North Cobb magnet students travel the world
MARIETTA — About 40 students and teachers from the North Cobb School of International Studies left yesterday for a 10-day trip through Ireland, England and France to experience and learn about other cultures.
Between 35 to more than 100 students go on two or three international field trips every year, according to James Auld, an AP Human Geography teacher who coordinates and leads the international trips for the North Cobb High School magnet program.
About 30 students went to Peru to visit Machu Picchu last winter break and about 45 students went to France, Spain and Morocco last summer.
Next summer, students will visit Turkey, Greece and Italy; a trip is booked for South Africa in summer 2017.
These trips are in addition to an annual trip to Belize Auld takes students in February.
Auld said he schedules trips two or three years in advance and said the average minimum cost is about $2,500 per student, which covers transportation, lodging, an embedded tour director and two-thirds of their meals.
Auld said students pay for their own lunch and lunchtime is free time for the students, during which they are able to explore on their own with some restrictions.
“It’s an independence that comes along with international travel and makes them a more mature citizen and a more mature student,” Auld said.
The trips are extracurricular, Auld said, and about six or seven magnet teachers serve as chaperones.
“The teachers are able to point out and make connections to curriculum while we’re there,” Auld said. “It’s extracurricular only in the sense that there’s no credit given and there’s no grade given, but it’s extremely curricular in that it aligns with our curriculum.”
Megan McMillan of Acworth, 17, graduated from the magnet program on May 19 and is going to the University of Georgia to study wildlife and fishery. She said she went on two trips — one to Belize and one to Germany, Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic.
McMillan said she enjoyed the Belize trip so much she applied for and was offered an internship in that country.
“I actually leave in seven days to go back down to Belize,” McMillan said. “I’ll do some research and tour-guiding and helping out … so, I kind of owe that internship to the fact that I got to go on the trip in February.”
Auld said there are three main components to each trip: cultural immersion, visiting major points of interest and instilling a sense of global citizenship.
Auld said an example of cultural immersion is when they went to Peru and each person was matched one-on-one with someone from a local village.
“We spent half a day there, seeing how they live and asking them questions and interacting with them — their actual culture,” Auld said.
In addition to experiencing the culture, Auld said they also make a point to schedule in the most frequently visited sites wherever they go.
“Like for this upcoming trip: We’ll kiss the Blarney Stone in Ireland, we’ll go the Louvre in Paris (and) we’ll visit a bog in Ireland,” Auld said.
The most important aspect of the trips, Auld said, is the global perspective the students are able to develop.
“It’s an understanding of other people and other parts of the world there’s no way you could (get) from a book,” Auld said. “You can learn about people, but until you talk about them, shop in their shops, eat in their restaurants and sit next to them on the subway in Paris, it becomes real to the point that we hope kids can … become tolerant and appreciative of cultures instead of just knowing them.”
Auld said he sees the effects of the trips on the students’ academic performance. The February trip to Belize, for example, takes place during one of his units — the students who go on the trip perform about 5 percent better on the quiz he gives for that unit compared to the students who don’t go.
“I’d say the maturity with which they approach their studies when they come back — it means something to them,” Auld said. “It’s not just words on a page that they have to read to get a grade.”
McMillan said she believes being a magnet student and going on the trips has helped her grow academically and personally, making her better prepared for college.
“Not many kids can say they have been out of the country twice without their parents,” McMillan said. “I’m more independent, and I’m less afraid to take risks.”
McMillan said she even faced one of her biggest fears — heights — when she climbed to the top of an Incan ruin while in Belize.
“I definitely push myself to take risks and I think that’ll help me a lot in college — not being worried to try new things,” she added.
The 2015-16 school year will be the 10th year of the magnet program at North Cobb High School, which has about 450 students in a given year.
Auld said the program’s international focus is important in today’s world.
“We focus very strongly in our curriculum on teaching a global perspective and matching our education to the needs of students in the 21st century,” Auld said. “We feel strongly that to connect the curriculum to life is essential — to experience what you’re learning in textbooks in the classroom firsthand.”
Auld boasts an AP exam pass rate that is about 30 percent higher than the national average, which is about 50 percent.