Wikwemikong High School students go abroad

These WHS students took part in an unforgettable trip to Costa Rica, the first trip abroad for the school.

Other recent trips include trades conference, business competition

WIIKWEMKOONG – A group of 13 dedicated students at Wikwemikong High School (WHS) have made history as the first students in the school’s 21-year history to participate in an international trip, a nine-day adventure to Costa Rica held over March Break.

“We wanted to start doing international educational travel,” said Jason Thibault, leadership and business teacher at WHS.

“A lot of people don’t realize how much is involved in putting one of these trips together,” he said, noting that many students had to apply for passports for the first time, had to learn about navigating transportation systems including security and customs and gained experience in exploring new parts of the world.

“So many of those other things have strong educational components as well,” Mr. Thibault said.

WHS partnered with a school from Huntsville to arrange and attend the trip. They began in the Caribbean coast of the country, then made their way through the central mountainous region and finally off to the Pacific coast.

Activities during the trip included a coffee tour, volcano visits, kayaking, waterfalls, hot springs, local exchanges and visits to communities. They participated in nature hikes, tree planting and a canopy tour in a mountainous forest, took an aerial tram ride and saw butterflies and crocodiles up close.

“We had great food, great weather and we learned lots,” said Mr. Thibault. The students fundraised and paid for all their trips and, despite the mishaps that can happen on student trips, Mr. Thibault said there were “no problems whatsoever.”

This was only the start of WHS’s plans for future extravagant trips. Next year, Mr. Thibault will be taking a group to London, Paris and Rome. There are already 19 students signed up at this point for the nine-day trip, currently scheduled for March 11 to 19.

This tour begins in London with a walking tour of famous landmarks The Strand, Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square and Covent Garden. The students will take a guided architectural tour and witness the Changing of the Guard at parliament. 

The following day, they will take a train through the Chunnel to Paris and visit the Louvre for a self-guided tour. The students will then have a guided tour of the city’s landmarks and some free time to explore, with a walking tour the next day including the Latin Quarter and Notre Dame Cathedral.

A night train will take the students to Rome for more guided tours and visits to the Colosseum and Roman Forum. On the final day, they will take a guided tour of Vatican City and stop at the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, followed by a self-guided walk of some of Rome’s most notable landmarks before flying home the next day.

Mr. Thibault said he was able to negotiate a $3,500 travel scholarship for the students who take next year’s trip, an amount that will be shared among all the students.

Far foreign destinations are far from the only educational trips Mr. Thibault hosts. He currently has about 30 kids signed up to attend Future Building, an Ottawa event that highlights some of the many career options in skilled trades.

Students enrolled by choosing a trade in which they may have an interest and writing a three-page essay about the career. The successful students were then required to pay their share of the costs to cover coach transportation, accommodations, admission to the conference and a buffet breakfast—a miniscule fee of just $50.

“Over 6,000 kids in the province will be there over the three days,” said Mr. Thibault, who added that this conference will offer a look at new career options they might not otherwise see in the small school.

“We don’t have a trades program here, so the students will be able to see some trades jobs that they maybe never knew existed,” said Mr. Thibault.

WHS students will also be taking part in the Enterprise Olympics, a business pitch competition held at Nipissing University in North Bay that’s similar to Dragons’ Den. It is exclusively for Northern Ontario high school students. Area entrepreneurs offer their time to mentor the students and they can win prizes.

There are six business sectors in the competition: retail, social enterprise, forestry, mining and agriculture, technology and innovation, health and wellness and arts and culture. Last year, WHS students took home gold medals in four of the six sectors.

“The students will learn business, organization and presentation skills, time management, marketing, entrepreneurship and leadership. They’re also going to learn teamwork because they’re working with students they don’t even know,” he said. 

All of these trip incentives have a goal of increasing student engagement and attendance, an ongoing problem during teenage years. Taking part in the trips is dependent upon good attendance, similar to the annual Kagawong beach day the school hosts to reward students with attendance rates of 85 percent or higher.

“We’re hoping if we can get students committed now for the future trips, it’ll help motivate them to stay in school,” Mr. Thibault said.