Kevin Leier is a teacher at Rugby High School. What started out as a normal day for Kevin would end up being the day that sent him and 30 high school students down a road that lead to a life-changing experience.
It was January 2013 and Kevin was giving a lecture in his World History Class about ancient civilizations in Mesoamerica. It was during a discussion about Peru, and more specifically Machu Picchu, that Kevin realized his students were becoming more and more attentive and interested in his class. While Kevin was showing the class a video of actual footage from the city of Machu Picchu, some of his students asked what the chances were they would actually be able to see Peru. It was at that point Kevin realized he had the ability to do something truly amazing for these kids.
The first thing Kevin did was contact group travel companies to find one that would make the trip a learning experience, as well as being cost effective, and that’s how he found Education First Tours, a travel company that has been around for 50 years and is dedicated to child education. First Tours motto is “Show Your Students the World”. Once he had a tour group figured out Kevin had to convince administration to allow him to proceed, so with the help of his students he devised a set of extensive student requirements that he could show the administration. This was an important fact of the trip as shared by the students. They thought it was important that they “earned the trip” not just that they could “afford” the trip. With high hopes and student requirements in hand, Kevin approached both Mr. Blikre and Dr. McNeff to get their approval to continue pursuing this opportunity. Both administrators were on board after seeing the requirements and how the program would play out with the students who committed to taking the trip.
Each student was asked to fill out an application to be considered for the trip. In their application, they needed to discuss the value of how they think world travel will affect them and why they want to take this trip. They also had to go out and request a letter of recommendation from a non-family member to accompany their application. Students and parents also had to go through a list of academic and behavioral requirements and agree to those. For the next 2 years, students had to uphold their behavioral contracts and maintain a 2.75 GPA or higher or risk being taken off the trip. Witnessing the students first-hand, Kevin says “it was pretty amazing monitoring this group and watching how some of the students raised their GPAs by an entire point in 2 years!” After all this, 30 students were signed up in May of 2013 committed and financially invested to a 2-year process to take this trip abroad.
For the next two years, Mr. Leier, with the help of Mrs. Ashley Stricker and his students met regularly as a group to continue the learning process and prepare to take a major trip abroad. Kevin says the whole process is meant to be a learning experience, not just the trip itself, and getting ready to take the trip made for a lot of discussion on how travel abroad is both a calculated risk, but also an amazing opportunity that can be life changing. As a group, the students took on some fundraising, like the RHS block party and 5k adventures run, but the vast majority of the expense came from the students themselves.
All in all, 30 students committed an earned the right to go on the trip to Peru; they were: Tanner Bernhardt, Jessica Blessum, Elizabeth Blessum, ReeAnn Christianson, Darby Deckert, Allison Heilman, Nolan Hovland, Noah Kraft, Lauren Kraft, Alicia Leier, Bailey Nelson, Ashley Schmaltz, Beau Villamor, Hunter Allickson, Morgan Clements, Ethan Clements, Breanna Deaver, Brad Heidlebaugh, Shea Heidlebaugh, Helen Johnson, McKenzie Johnson, Kassi Jorgenson, Alyssa Mattern, Ryan Michels, Zach Miller, Tyler Schmaltz, Emily Stier, Rebekah Wangler, Allison Foster, and Hunter Hager.
On their return we had the chance to meet with some of the students that included Shea Heidlebaugh, Breanna Deaver, Morgan Clements, Zach Miller, and Brad Heidlebaugh. As a group they discussed the trip and how it was a life-changing experience. They shared how personable the people of Peru are. How open and accommodating they were to foreigners. How the blending of cultures seemed so simple there, in contrast to the difficulties that our country has. Some of the things they raved about was the food and commented how cheap it was. They loved the open market place and how haggling over prices was not only encouraged, but also expected. They also appreciated how the people sold items they made themselves and how arduous it must be to go home every night to make something to sell the next day. They thought an open market in downtown Rugby would be a great addition to summers in Rugby on a Friday. They loved how the country as a whole embraced their history and were happy to share their knowledge of it with all that asked. One of the challenges they found “unique” was they had to pay to use the public lavatories. They soon learned to make sure they always had money in their pocket so when nature called they were ready!
As a group they all expressed what a wonderful learning experience this was. They further commented that no amount of school lessons or pictures seen or taken could capture the magnificence, the grandeur of what they had the privilege to see and experience in Peru. It was a trip that the memories will last a lifetime. The group also expressed that though they could have chosen a more conventional place to visit they were so thankful they chose Peru because as young students they wanted to learn and experience all that this world has to offer. These wise-beyond-their-years students realized that sometimes you have to go beyond your comfort zone to find such experiences.
To make this trip a reality you had to have a teacher with vision, which you had in Kevin Leier. You had to have a school administration that believed in their students and faculty, which you have at Rugby High School with Principal Blikre and Superintendent Dr. McNeff. You had to have parents who understood the importance of the trip and that trusted their children and their children’s school. You had 30 sets of parents that did. Most importantly, you had to have students who would appreciate the opportunity they were being given with this trip. Students who wanted to participate in the program for more than just a good time, but wanted to enrich their lives by traveling beyond their borders, and who didn’t want it just given to them, but they wanted to earn it. Students who accepted the responsibility of being the first class to participate in the program and the participation of future classes would be predicated on how they represented themselves. Fortunately for all concerned you had just that with these students.
While the group was in Peru, Kevin kept a blog of their adventures that can be found at www.rhsperu15.blogspot.com. He invites you to go on and see more of the trip.
This article was written with assistance of Jordan Wright.
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