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Students travel world’s classroom

Connie Steiert
Gypsum Elementary School teacher Mary Coe "holds up" the leaning tower of Pisa on a recent People to People student ambassador trip.
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You know you’ve latched onto a good idea when, even after four decades, it just keeps growing and growing.So it is with the People to People Student Ambassador Program. Established in 1963 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the program was designed to enable students from the United States to interact with other students around the world, fostering new relationships and, hopefully, ultimately, global peace. Today, the organization is still touching generations of new students and teachers alike. Just ask Mary Coe.Coe, a special needs teacher at Gypsum Elementary School for the past eight years, knew nothing about People to People until her son, Zach, received an invitation to participate. Coe has just returned from her fourth trip guiding students across Europe and said she is sold on the opportunities and experiences People to People offers young people.”The biggest thing that I see is an awareness that there is so much more out there then they will ever see in the United States,” Coe said. “And, the knowledge that what we have here developed from all the art and history and foresightedness of the Europeans … but we have taken it to a higher level.”People to People is not affiliated with the schools, although high school students are able to earn high school credits through participation in the organization’s summer trips. People to People offers a rotating, established itinerary of trips for nominated students, ranging from tours of the British Isles to travels through Europe, China, Japan, New Zealand and Australia.Coe was not anxious to entrust her son to the organization when he received an invitation while in sixth grade. But she attended an meeting in Denver featuring Eisenhower’s granddaughter, Mary Eisenhower, who is now a spokesperson for the organization. Coe was so impressed with what she learned, she not only ended up allowing Zach to travel to Hawaii with People to People for two weeks without her, but was convinced to sign on as a teacher sponsor herself.

Although itineraries are set in advance by the delegation managers, Coe said she uses every opportunity to weave in the educational aspects on the trips she leads, focusing on the history and culture of each country they visit. For her first People to People trip, Coe was assigned a group of students from Denver, whom she helped guide through Australia and New Zealand. In New Zealand, she and her group studied volcanic activity. In Australia, they snorkeled around the Great Barrier Reef, and learned how the sea influences life in the country.During the summers of 2002 and 2003, she and students explored Great Britain, touring England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Visiting castles, they learned of the islands’ history.This summer, Coe’s group of 13, from Grand Junction and the Western Slope, visited Italy, then swept across Austria, Switzerland and France, focusing on the influence of art and religion. In Rome, the students toured the Coliseum, the Trevi fountain, the Spanish stairs and the Pantheon. At the Vatican City, a priest spoke to the group about the history of Catholicism. In St. Peter’s Basilica, the children saw Michelangelo’s amazing Sistine Chapel. The Italian part of the summer’s trip concluded with a tour through the Academia Gallery in Florence, and a glimpse of the statue of David, followed by a gondola ride and a demonstration of Venetian glass blowing in Venice.But the trip was just getting underway. Coe and her students then made their way to Austria, where they had a medieval dinner in Vienna and Carinthia. Yet, the biggest impact on students came when the group visited a concentration camp survivor and toured the camp at Mauthausen, Coe said. “I was thoroughly impressed by the respect that was shown for the horrors of this ugly time in our history,” said Coe.The group felt almost at home when it stayed in a Guesthouse in Mariapfarr, Austria. “It looked remarkably like Vail,” said Coe. In the winter, Mariapfarr is a very popular ski area, but the students this summer participated in team-building activities there. In Salzburg, the students toured a salt mine and raced down the mountain on an alpine bobsled, and, at St. Wolfgang, they played in the 400-year-old, trick fountains of Hellbrunn water castle. From there, it was on to the Alps of Switzerland and then to Paris, France, where the students made a visit to the Council of Europe, formed to protect human rights and encourage Europe’s cultural identity and diversity. The Louvre and the Chateau de Versailles were also a must see, as was the Notre Dame Cathedral and an obligatory trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower (even though Coe has a fear of heights).

During these summer trips, Coe has seen students grow and change in remarkable ways, while gaining invaluable new knowledge of the world, she said.”I see personal growth. I see them gain a maturity that they would not gain if they would travel through Colorado – they learn how to become independent,” Coe said.Coe saw similar changes in her son after his first People to People trip. He came back more mature and independent, and the relatively reserved boy suddenly seemed more outspoken and at ease with adults, she said. “It was a phenomenal experience for him,” Coe said. “I was floored by the change in him.” As marvelous and educational as the experience can be, People to People is not for every student, however, Coe said.”There are dozens of kids out there that just want to get away from mom for three weeks,” Coe said. These are not the students People to People is looking for. Nor does the organization encourage parents to send kids to overcome shyness, or who have problems, she said. Instead, students must be recommended by teachers, pastors or community leaders, and undergo personal interviews to determine that they are both mature enough and committed, she said. “If (parents or teachers) have a truly remarkable student or child, a good student that wants so much to learn about other cultures, I can’t think of a better way to do it than this trip,” Coe said. Co”I see personal growth. I see them gain a maturity that they would not gain if they would travel through Colorado – they learn how to become independent,” Coe said.Coe saw similar changes in her son after his first People to People trip. He came back more mature and independent, and the relatively reserved boy suddenly seemed more outspoken and at ease with adults, she said. “It was a phenomenal experience for him,” Coe said. “I was floored by the change in him.” As marvelous and educational as the experience can be, People to People is not for every student, however, Coe said.”There are dozens of kids out there that just want to get away from mom for three weeks,” Coe said. These are not the students People to People is looking for. Nor does the organization encourage parents to send kids to overcome shyness, or who have problems, she said. Instead, students must be recommended by teachers, pastors or community leaders, and undergo personal interviews to determine that they are both mature enough and committed, she said. “If (parents or teachers) have a truly remarkable student or child, a good student that wants so much to learn about other cultures, I can’t think of a better way to do it than this trip,” Coe said. Vail, Colorado


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