Hamilton public school board cuts international travel from Waterdown District High School ConneXions program

News Jul 13, 2017 by Mac Christie Flamborough Review

Waterdown District High School’s ConneXions program will be significantly different in 2017-18 – it won’t have an international travel component.

The course, which focuses on the connections between students’ local environment and other areas around the world, traditionally featured a 12-day international trip to a South American country. The students spent seven days living with an Indigenous family, most recently in Costa Rica.

However, Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board Superintendent Jamie Nunn said the board decided not to approve the Costa Rica trip at the end of June. He noted the board had been discussing the issue since early spring.

“At the end of the day, when we look at the trip…the costs that are involved for families, it can be very expensive,” he said. “When you look at things from an equity perspective, the experience of the ConneXions program and a trip to a place like Costa Rica and the cost of $3,000, that can be very expensive to HWDSB families and students.”

Nunn said the board has been asking principals to consider any and all excursions within Ontario and Canada first – before considering international travel.

“We believed, in working with staff, that we could meet the expectations for the (ConneXions) curriculum through local experiences, as opposed to traveling abroad,” he said.

Nunn noted the board sent a letter to the WDHS community last week, highlighting six different excursions that will be offered locally to students.

“We feel, in conversations with the principal, that the program may even grow,” he said, especially since the changes remove a large cost component to the course.

ConneXions teacher Evan Smith said the international travel component was an important experience for students, adding the course is called a global citizenship program.

“We really care about building a citizen from local to international or local to global,” he said. “We do volunteer work downtown in Hamilton and we show them how the local connects to the global and how the global connects to the local – how everything is connected.”

He noted the students who take the course often say they want to “go outside the bubble of Waterdown.”

“They want to live like others in the world and that’s what this program offers because of the host family component,” he said. “They eat the host family’s food, they get up with their patterns of day and experience a week in the life – in this case of indigenous people – in Costa Rica.

“They love the idea of living a week in someone else’s shoes.”

The ConneXions program is a three-credit Grade 12 course and is offered in the first semester of the school year, when there are enough applicants. It has run six times.

The program, which includes English, geography and interdisciplinary studies credits, takes up three periods on a student’s timetable. Smith noted the program was unique, as the travel component was embedded in the curriculum.

Due to the removal of the international on-the-ground experience, students will do more in-classroom learning through the eyes of others, such as documentaries, Smith said.

Neal Fleet, who took the course this year, said taking ConneXions was the best choice he made in high school.

“I learned more in it than I did in any other high school course,” he said. “The trip, there’s nothing else like it.”

He added the international travel experience was important to the program.

“You feel like you’re building up – all the work you’re doing, all the lessons, they’re all giving you a foundation to when you go on the trip,” he said. “It’s all building towards that moment.”

Fleet added he felt like he made a new family when he stayed with his hosts in Costa Rica – an experience students taking the course in the coming year will miss out on.

“I feel like if you take away the trip, it will put a really big hole in the course,” he said.

Fleet’s classmate Bella Wylie agreed.

“I think it will change the course a lot,” she said, noting the teachers are good at finding alternatives so the students can learn similarly to how they would on the trip. “But it was a really life-changing thing for everyone in the class.”

Wylie noted the fact that the students lived in the indigenous community was vital to the experience.

“We got to completely immerse ourselves in their culture and their lifestyle,” she said, adding as part of the course the students learn Spanish. “And we had a language barrier – so it was putting all of our skills to the test and it was so gratifying at the end.

“It was such a good experience and I think anyone would benefit from that.”

Meanwhile Colleen Maunder, whose daughter Jaiden applied for the program next year, said the decision isn’t fair to students who had planned to take the program in 2017-18.

“Had they known this was going to be an issue, they should have never had it in the curriculum,” she said of the trip. Maunder said Jaiden had been interested in the course since Grade 9 and hopes to go to university to study social justice and police foundations.

“That’s why she wanted this program, because of the social justice nature,” she said.

While Maunder said Jaiden would still like to take ConneXions, even without the trip, others may not – which could cause scheduling issues for those students.

Maunder said in her conversations with the board, the reason given was that US President Donald Trump’s travel ban put all international travel in jeopardy.

According to a post on the ConneXions website, WDHS vice-principal Dan Stepaniuk told the parent meeting in early June the HWDSB Executive Council was not prepared to make a decision on the trip and in light of “recent events” the board was not accepting new applications for international trips.

However, HWDSB Ward 15 trustee Penny Deathe said the board is not cancelling international travel.

“Definitely not,” she said, noting decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. “We check travel advisories, we check accommodations where the kids are staying…and if those things are met, absolutely we’re OK with international excursions.”

Deathe noted she’s very familiar with the trip, as her daughter Shawna took the ConneXions program. “It’s a fantastic program,” she said. ”Every year the trip is sort of up for questioning because of safety.”

Deathe noted part of the board’s concern with the trip is that participants stay with host families, which come to the board through a third party. She added the board has to rely on the third party to screen the families.

“We’re just not comfortable with that,” she said. “The last thing we want is to have to react if something happens.”

However, Deathe said the board supports educational excursions and believes they enhance education.

“We don’t want to curtail them at all, but we do have to look at safety,” she said. “We’re looking at Canada first – how can we do some of these excursions within our own (country) because there’s so much within our own country.”

She noted the course used to travel to Ecuador, which was then changed to Costa Rica for travel concerns. She added the trip was almost cancelled last year, due to similar concerns.

Deathe admitted she thinks the Costa Rica trip was a great experience. “My daughter loved it,” she said. “Am I disappointed? Yes. But I understand the reasons and as a parent, safety first.”

For his part, Nunn said the US travel ban did not play a role in the decision and reiterated that international travel will continue within HWDSB secondary schools into 2017-18.

“However, we’re asking that educators should investigate all excursions in Ontario and other provinces in Canada before planning an international excursion,” he said.

For students who took the course with the understanding they would be traveling to Costa Rica and may wish to change their course selection in light of the decision, Nunn said guidance counsellors were at WDHS last week to allow students to make timetable changes.

He added the board also informed parents and students at the mid-June meeting that the international component could be scrapped.

“At the end of August guidance counsellors will be back in the school and certainly available to make timetable changes up to the beginning of September,” he said. “Students will not be academically harmed – they’ll be able to get into other classes.”

Hamilton public school board cuts international travel from Waterdown District High School ConneXions program

Cost, safety issues cited as reasons for removing 12-day trip to Costa Rica from Grade 12 course

News Jul 13, 2017 by Mac Christie Flamborough Review

Waterdown District High School’s ConneXions program will be significantly different in 2017-18 – it won’t have an international travel component.

The course, which focuses on the connections between students’ local environment and other areas around the world, traditionally featured a 12-day international trip to a South American country. The students spent seven days living with an Indigenous family, most recently in Costa Rica.

However, Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board Superintendent Jamie Nunn said the board decided not to approve the Costa Rica trip at the end of June. He noted the board had been discussing the issue since early spring.

“At the end of the day, when we look at the trip…the costs that are involved for families, it can be very expensive,” he said. “When you look at things from an equity perspective, the experience of the ConneXions program and a trip to a place like Costa Rica and the cost of $3,000, that can be very expensive to HWDSB families and students.”

Nunn said the board has been asking principals to consider any and all excursions within Ontario and Canada first – before considering international travel.

“We believed, in working with staff, that we could meet the expectations for the (ConneXions) curriculum through local experiences, as opposed to traveling abroad,” he said.

Nunn noted the board sent a letter to the WDHS community last week, highlighting six different excursions that will be offered locally to students.

“We feel, in conversations with the principal, that the program may even grow,” he said, especially since the changes remove a large cost component to the course.

ConneXions teacher Evan Smith said the international travel component was an important experience for students, adding the course is called a global citizenship program.

“We really care about building a citizen from local to international or local to global,” he said. “We do volunteer work downtown in Hamilton and we show them how the local connects to the global and how the global connects to the local – how everything is connected.”

He noted the students who take the course often say they want to “go outside the bubble of Waterdown.”

“They want to live like others in the world and that’s what this program offers because of the host family component,” he said. “They eat the host family’s food, they get up with their patterns of day and experience a week in the life – in this case of indigenous people – in Costa Rica.

“They love the idea of living a week in someone else’s shoes.”

The ConneXions program is a three-credit Grade 12 course and is offered in the first semester of the school year, when there are enough applicants. It has run six times.

The program, which includes English, geography and interdisciplinary studies credits, takes up three periods on a student’s timetable. Smith noted the program was unique, as the travel component was embedded in the curriculum.

Due to the removal of the international on-the-ground experience, students will do more in-classroom learning through the eyes of others, such as documentaries, Smith said.

Neal Fleet, who took the course this year, said taking ConneXions was the best choice he made in high school.

“I learned more in it than I did in any other high school course,” he said. “The trip, there’s nothing else like it.”

He added the international travel experience was important to the program.

“You feel like you’re building up – all the work you’re doing, all the lessons, they’re all giving you a foundation to when you go on the trip,” he said. “It’s all building towards that moment.”

Fleet added he felt like he made a new family when he stayed with his hosts in Costa Rica – an experience students taking the course in the coming year will miss out on.

“I feel like if you take away the trip, it will put a really big hole in the course,” he said.

Fleet’s classmate Bella Wylie agreed.

“I think it will change the course a lot,” she said, noting the teachers are good at finding alternatives so the students can learn similarly to how they would on the trip. “But it was a really life-changing thing for everyone in the class.”

Wylie noted the fact that the students lived in the indigenous community was vital to the experience.

“We got to completely immerse ourselves in their culture and their lifestyle,” she said, adding as part of the course the students learn Spanish. “And we had a language barrier – so it was putting all of our skills to the test and it was so gratifying at the end.

“It was such a good experience and I think anyone would benefit from that.”

Meanwhile Colleen Maunder, whose daughter Jaiden applied for the program next year, said the decision isn’t fair to students who had planned to take the program in 2017-18.

“Had they known this was going to be an issue, they should have never had it in the curriculum,” she said of the trip. Maunder said Jaiden had been interested in the course since Grade 9 and hopes to go to university to study social justice and police foundations.

“That’s why she wanted this program, because of the social justice nature,” she said.

While Maunder said Jaiden would still like to take ConneXions, even without the trip, others may not – which could cause scheduling issues for those students.

Maunder said in her conversations with the board, the reason given was that US President Donald Trump’s travel ban put all international travel in jeopardy.

According to a post on the ConneXions website, WDHS vice-principal Dan Stepaniuk told the parent meeting in early June the HWDSB Executive Council was not prepared to make a decision on the trip and in light of “recent events” the board was not accepting new applications for international trips.

However, HWDSB Ward 15 trustee Penny Deathe said the board is not cancelling international travel.

“Definitely not,” she said, noting decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. “We check travel advisories, we check accommodations where the kids are staying…and if those things are met, absolutely we’re OK with international excursions.”

Deathe noted she’s very familiar with the trip, as her daughter Shawna took the ConneXions program. “It’s a fantastic program,” she said. ”Every year the trip is sort of up for questioning because of safety.”

Deathe noted part of the board’s concern with the trip is that participants stay with host families, which come to the board through a third party. She added the board has to rely on the third party to screen the families.

“We’re just not comfortable with that,” she said. “The last thing we want is to have to react if something happens.”

However, Deathe said the board supports educational excursions and believes they enhance education.

“We don’t want to curtail them at all, but we do have to look at safety,” she said. “We’re looking at Canada first – how can we do some of these excursions within our own (country) because there’s so much within our own country.”

She noted the course used to travel to Ecuador, which was then changed to Costa Rica for travel concerns. She added the trip was almost cancelled last year, due to similar concerns.

Deathe admitted she thinks the Costa Rica trip was a great experience. “My daughter loved it,” she said. “Am I disappointed? Yes. But I understand the reasons and as a parent, safety first.”

For his part, Nunn said the US travel ban did not play a role in the decision and reiterated that international travel will continue within HWDSB secondary schools into 2017-18.

“However, we’re asking that educators should investigate all excursions in Ontario and other provinces in Canada before planning an international excursion,” he said.

For students who took the course with the understanding they would be traveling to Costa Rica and may wish to change their course selection in light of the decision, Nunn said guidance counsellors were at WDHS last week to allow students to make timetable changes.

He added the board also informed parents and students at the mid-June meeting that the international component could be scrapped.

“At the end of August guidance counsellors will be back in the school and certainly available to make timetable changes up to the beginning of September,” he said. “Students will not be academically harmed – they’ll be able to get into other classes.”

Hamilton public school board cuts international travel from Waterdown District High School ConneXions program

Cost, safety issues cited as reasons for removing 12-day trip to Costa Rica from Grade 12 course

News Jul 13, 2017 by Mac Christie Flamborough Review

Waterdown District High School’s ConneXions program will be significantly different in 2017-18 – it won’t have an international travel component.

The course, which focuses on the connections between students’ local environment and other areas around the world, traditionally featured a 12-day international trip to a South American country. The students spent seven days living with an Indigenous family, most recently in Costa Rica.

However, Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board Superintendent Jamie Nunn said the board decided not to approve the Costa Rica trip at the end of June. He noted the board had been discussing the issue since early spring.

“At the end of the day, when we look at the trip…the costs that are involved for families, it can be very expensive,” he said. “When you look at things from an equity perspective, the experience of the ConneXions program and a trip to a place like Costa Rica and the cost of $3,000, that can be very expensive to HWDSB families and students.”

Nunn said the board has been asking principals to consider any and all excursions within Ontario and Canada first – before considering international travel.

“We believed, in working with staff, that we could meet the expectations for the (ConneXions) curriculum through local experiences, as opposed to traveling abroad,” he said.

Nunn noted the board sent a letter to the WDHS community last week, highlighting six different excursions that will be offered locally to students.

“We feel, in conversations with the principal, that the program may even grow,” he said, especially since the changes remove a large cost component to the course.

ConneXions teacher Evan Smith said the international travel component was an important experience for students, adding the course is called a global citizenship program.

“We really care about building a citizen from local to international or local to global,” he said. “We do volunteer work downtown in Hamilton and we show them how the local connects to the global and how the global connects to the local – how everything is connected.”

He noted the students who take the course often say they want to “go outside the bubble of Waterdown.”

“They want to live like others in the world and that’s what this program offers because of the host family component,” he said. “They eat the host family’s food, they get up with their patterns of day and experience a week in the life – in this case of indigenous people – in Costa Rica.

“They love the idea of living a week in someone else’s shoes.”

The ConneXions program is a three-credit Grade 12 course and is offered in the first semester of the school year, when there are enough applicants. It has run six times.

The program, which includes English, geography and interdisciplinary studies credits, takes up three periods on a student’s timetable. Smith noted the program was unique, as the travel component was embedded in the curriculum.

Due to the removal of the international on-the-ground experience, students will do more in-classroom learning through the eyes of others, such as documentaries, Smith said.

Neal Fleet, who took the course this year, said taking ConneXions was the best choice he made in high school.

“I learned more in it than I did in any other high school course,” he said. “The trip, there’s nothing else like it.”

He added the international travel experience was important to the program.

“You feel like you’re building up – all the work you’re doing, all the lessons, they’re all giving you a foundation to when you go on the trip,” he said. “It’s all building towards that moment.”

Fleet added he felt like he made a new family when he stayed with his hosts in Costa Rica – an experience students taking the course in the coming year will miss out on.

“I feel like if you take away the trip, it will put a really big hole in the course,” he said.

Fleet’s classmate Bella Wylie agreed.

“I think it will change the course a lot,” she said, noting the teachers are good at finding alternatives so the students can learn similarly to how they would on the trip. “But it was a really life-changing thing for everyone in the class.”

Wylie noted the fact that the students lived in the indigenous community was vital to the experience.

“We got to completely immerse ourselves in their culture and their lifestyle,” she said, adding as part of the course the students learn Spanish. “And we had a language barrier – so it was putting all of our skills to the test and it was so gratifying at the end.

“It was such a good experience and I think anyone would benefit from that.”

Meanwhile Colleen Maunder, whose daughter Jaiden applied for the program next year, said the decision isn’t fair to students who had planned to take the program in 2017-18.

“Had they known this was going to be an issue, they should have never had it in the curriculum,” she said of the trip. Maunder said Jaiden had been interested in the course since Grade 9 and hopes to go to university to study social justice and police foundations.

“That’s why she wanted this program, because of the social justice nature,” she said.

While Maunder said Jaiden would still like to take ConneXions, even without the trip, others may not – which could cause scheduling issues for those students.

Maunder said in her conversations with the board, the reason given was that US President Donald Trump’s travel ban put all international travel in jeopardy.

According to a post on the ConneXions website, WDHS vice-principal Dan Stepaniuk told the parent meeting in early June the HWDSB Executive Council was not prepared to make a decision on the trip and in light of “recent events” the board was not accepting new applications for international trips.

However, HWDSB Ward 15 trustee Penny Deathe said the board is not cancelling international travel.

“Definitely not,” she said, noting decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. “We check travel advisories, we check accommodations where the kids are staying…and if those things are met, absolutely we’re OK with international excursions.”

Deathe noted she’s very familiar with the trip, as her daughter Shawna took the ConneXions program. “It’s a fantastic program,” she said. ”Every year the trip is sort of up for questioning because of safety.”

Deathe noted part of the board’s concern with the trip is that participants stay with host families, which come to the board through a third party. She added the board has to rely on the third party to screen the families.

“We’re just not comfortable with that,” she said. “The last thing we want is to have to react if something happens.”

However, Deathe said the board supports educational excursions and believes they enhance education.

“We don’t want to curtail them at all, but we do have to look at safety,” she said. “We’re looking at Canada first – how can we do some of these excursions within our own (country) because there’s so much within our own country.”

She noted the course used to travel to Ecuador, which was then changed to Costa Rica for travel concerns. She added the trip was almost cancelled last year, due to similar concerns.

Deathe admitted she thinks the Costa Rica trip was a great experience. “My daughter loved it,” she said. “Am I disappointed? Yes. But I understand the reasons and as a parent, safety first.”

For his part, Nunn said the US travel ban did not play a role in the decision and reiterated that international travel will continue within HWDSB secondary schools into 2017-18.

“However, we’re asking that educators should investigate all excursions in Ontario and other provinces in Canada before planning an international excursion,” he said.

For students who took the course with the understanding they would be traveling to Costa Rica and may wish to change their course selection in light of the decision, Nunn said guidance counsellors were at WDHS last week to allow students to make timetable changes.

He added the board also informed parents and students at the mid-June meeting that the international component could be scrapped.

“At the end of August guidance counsellors will be back in the school and certainly available to make timetable changes up to the beginning of September,” he said. “Students will not be academically harmed – they’ll be able to get into other classes.”