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Class trip confronts history

Connie Steiert
Special to the DailyEagle Valley High honors students visited the Colisseum while in Rome.
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GYSPUM & ROME – Imagine reading a book about a historical event, and then walking out the door and right into the middle of just such a momentous occurrence.That’s exactly what happened to Cody Comerford and some of his fellow Eagle Valley High School honors English students over spring break. On the flight to Italy, where they were to spend their spring vacation, they were reading the book, “Angels and Demons,” a popular novel that explains how a pope is chosen. The literary lesson continued in real life before their very eyes.Not only did these students find themselves wrapped in the high drama of a world about to lose a pope when they landed in Italy, the students were actually inside the Vatican itself the day Pope John Paul II passed away.Noel Lagace, who was one of the 16 students teacher Jennifer Wright led to Italy this spring, said that she felt honored, as a Catholic, to be at the Vatican at that time.It was the last day of their trip. They had seen the large crowds gathering outside the Vatican in St. Peter’s Square, praying and anxiously waiting for news of the Pope. “It was like being a part of history,” student Lakotah Doig said.

Rome shut downAlthough the visit to the Vatican was on their itinerary, students and teachers alike doubted they would ever be allowed inside the Vatican with such a tense and emotionally wrought situation going on. The night before their scheduled tour, area TV stations erroneously reported the pope had died. Yet, when the students showed up early next morning as scheduled, they were admitted to the Vatican, and tours were lining up behind them. Amy Strakbein said one group ahead of them had spent the night waiting in line. But all the students seem to think the tour was worth rising before dawn and the long wait.”It was interesting, walking through the Sistine Chapel,” Strakbein said. “It was weird to realize that if he did die, they would meet there to decide who the next Pope would be.”Outside, with thousands of people lining the streets, waiting for word on the pope’s health, it was difficult not to be moved, students said.Haley Didier said the tourists in the massive crowds made it hard to gauge the true reaction of the locals, but early everything in Rome shut down. It was an emotional and confusing time, with people crying everywhere, she said.

“You felt how powerful he must have been,” Didier said.Moving to Florence? The rest of the trip to Italy left an equally indelible memory on the students, most of who were juniors. “It was like the best spring break ever,” Hanna Nelson said.This was the third year Wright took her honors English students abroad. They landed in Rome on March 27, Easter Sunday. The students, Wright, teacher Susan Scott and four accompanying parents made their way toward Florence.After a quick meal at an Italian truck stop – salty spaghetti and tuna – that left the students wondering what they had gotten their palates into, they arrived at a picturesque group of small villas set in a vineyard in Florence, where they spent the night.They were enthralled by Florence, with its narrow streets, barely wide enough for cars and people, too, and its friendly inhabitants.

“If I were to live anywhere else in the world, I would live in Florence,” Strakbein said.On the way to Venice, they visited the Tower of Bologna, and the boys climbed all 498 wooden steps to the top. The group picnicked Italian-style, nearby, with salami and cheese. After an obligatory stop at the Romeo and Juliet balcony, they explored Venice.Senior Mariah Scott said the gondola ride on the canal was the highlight of the trip. Summer Forsyth said going under the largest bridge was like being on a highway, there were so many boats. The culture and the scenery of Venice were astonishing, Caleb Glass added. “You just concentrate on the architecture and the people and the lights of the city,” he said. Some of the students rode the gondola at night. “It was so romantic,” Lagace said. “We seriously felt like we were in a dream.”From Venice, the tour moved on to Assisi, where the students spent the night in a monastery, purported to be haunted. They also visited the tomb of St. Francis of Assisi – a visit that proved moving to some of the young people.

“It was really powerful and spiritual,” says Forsyth.Back in Rome, the students toured the Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, the Forum Romanum, and the Spanish Steps, among other landmarks. Glass and classmate Callahan Ketterling agreed the Colosseum and the Forum were the Roman highlights. “It showed what it was like in ancient times,” Ketterling said. “It is one of the only places that is still left in Rome like that.””We’ve heard about it,” Jacob Rivera added, “but we hadn’t experienced it before.”Memorable miscuesAs on any trip, not everything went like clockwork. A shower stopped up at 2 a.m. and flooded some bedrooms in Florence. In Venice, when the group split up to pursue individual interests for a bit, five of the girls got lost for an hour-and-a-half (there are rumors boy watching was partially to blame).

Some of the boys missed their connecting flight in JFK on the way home, and had to make a mad dash to LaGuardia Airport to catch another flight, connecting through Cincinnati, to Denver – 48 hours later. “They switched flights and never told us,” David Earle said. Yet, these adventurous students said they’d go back in a heartbeat.”It was amazing,” Hanna Nelson said. “We didn’t want to leave.” Didier said she was so inspired by the artwork she saw in Italy, she wants to return to Italy to paint. Lakotah Doig, who plans to major in art history, now wants to study in Italy, too, she said. Scott said it was an amazing trip. “They were mature beyond their years,” she said. “Their excitement and energy made the trip so fulfilling.” Added daughter Mariah, “It was an experience of a lifetime.”Vail, Colorado


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