Most students have to wait until college to study abroad, if they do at all, but a handful of Ballard students are getting the opportunity to go to the Amazon in middle school.
The program started about six years ago when Todd Bohannon, a first grade teacher in Ballard, applied for Fund for Teachers grant that enables teachers to go and have experiences they otherwise would not. The goal of the grant is to help them become better teachers. Bohannon said it was kind of a fluke that of all the places he could take students, he decided on the Amazon. “I applied to the grant during a week of where we were just stuck in snow,” said Bohannon, “And a friend from work, who had previously received the grant, told me to just pick the place that was the craziest and most out there – and I picked the Amazon!”
This trip will be the fourth time Bohannon is taking kids to the Amazon. The group is comprised of about 10 – 15 students, all middle-school-aged, and usually one of two parents join the trip as chaperons. The majority of the recruitment for the trip has been through word of mouth from kids that Bohannon previously taught and their friends. “Every time I go it’s a new experience because I get to see it through their eyes,” said Bohannon, “It’s unlike anything that they have been to, so when they arrive, a part of them just lights up, a part that doesn’t anymore. You can see them just let go of our culture and experience nature.”
Bohannon said it’s always rejuvenating to get away, and it immediately puts things in perspective for him, saying “It makes you realize how small you really are and how our problems really are not that big.”
Jen Fallon’s son, Colin, is going on the trip for the first time this year. Colin, a 7th grader at Salmon Bay, heard about the opportunity from a friend’s brother who went in 2009. Fallon said it was all Colin’s motivation and something that he really wanted for himself. Fallon is excited for her son to go because she thinks it’s important for students, especially from America, to see how the rest of the world lives. She thinks her son is most excited about how different this trip will be from anything that he knows, and that he’ll get a lot of personal growth from it.
“My husband and I are not big travelers and we’re middle class individuals, so I certainly never could have taken him to the Amazing rainforest,” said Fallon. “So it’s great for him to get a chance to go with his school. When we were kids, opportunities like this were never an option!”
Each trip is a little bit different; this year the group will be spending longer in the jungle than ever before doing a much larger community service project. Bohannon thinks the students will get alot more out of this because it will allow them to interact longer with the local community and tohear their stories.
The group is still fundraising for their trip this year and will be at the Ballard Sunday Markets in April and May, when they can, selling Equal Exchange coffee and chocolate.