All eighth grade language trips cancelled as deadly coronavirus spreads

The eighth grade language trips to Spain, China, and France have been cancelled by the Senior Leadership Team after the new deadly coronavirus, officially named COVID-19, spreads throughout the world. The Grade 8 language trip to China scheduled for March 20-27 was the first to be cancelled on January 29, and the trips to Spain and France were then cancelled on February 28. 

The coronavirus, which is known to affect humans and animals, originated in the Wuhan City seafood market in China in December 2019; it was most likely transmitted to humans through these animals. The virus has pneumonia and flu-like-symptoms, and the majority of the people who die from it have a weaker immune system. According to the John Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering, as of March 5, 89,279 people globally have been affected, and 3,048 have died with the toll still increasing.

Eighth grade students walk on the Great Wall of China in 2016 as part of their language trip (photo from Scroll archives).

The China trip is a language trip for eighth grade students learning Chinese, where students visit and see sites in Beijing, Nanjing, and Shanghai. The trip was planned to be from March 20 to March 27, and the goals were to immerse the students in Chinese culture and get them to practice Chinese in real life situations.

Middle School Principal Mr. Peter Lutkoski sent an email to families of students on the trip on January 29 of the decision to cancel it. The email explained how the school is closely monitoring the spread of the virus by tracking news updates and international and government guidance; the security team worked with external security and government agencies. The email explained that arrangements for alternative local activities for the planned trip days were being made, which were later cancelled.

Many students were disappointed by the decision but understood the risk going to China would have been. Eighth grader Mahalia Eddy said, “When I first heard about the China trip being cancelled, I was quite disappointed as I had been looking forward to going. However, I understood why it was cancelled and I agree with the decision; it would have been dangerous if we had continued to go.”

Eighth grade students visit a tourist site in 2019 as part of their language trip to Nice (photo from Scroll archives).

On February 28, Head of School Mrs. Robin Appleby sent an update by email to ASL families. The email included information about the number of ASL families that visited Category 1 and Category 2 areas over February break and announced the cancellation of multiple school trips outside of the UK, including the French and Spanish language trips. The email also stated that eighth graders would have normal classes the week of March 23 instead of having alternative trips. 

These decisions were made at the Senior Leadership team level, which includes principals and other key leaders in the school. Appleby said, “By Friday we felt we had enough information to make an informed decision. There was no specific reason for the date itself.”

The trip leaders for the eighth grade French trip are Ms. Laure Pothain and Ms. Solange Kidd. The French trip was planned to be from March 24 to March 28, and there were 38 students who were supposed to travel to Nice.

The purpose of the trip was for students to immerse themselves in French culture and French language, as well as to apply their language skills in real life situations. Some of the activities included were making macarons in a cooking class, watching a French movie, riding through the Promenade des Anglais, visiting the Matisse museum, as well as visiting multiple other sites in Nice.

Pothain said, “We have been running this trip for many years, and the feedback that we’ve had from students is, ‘Wow, it really has boosted my confidence or it has increased my enthusiasm for this subject.’ For those lucky ones who have applied and got a place on the trip, it’s a wonderful experience, and there are some really linguistic benefits. [The cancellation] is a shame, but in my opinion it is the correct decision.”

The trip leaders for the eighth grade Spanish trip are Mr. Carlos Alvarez Santos, Ms. Melanie Manuel, and Ms. Carmen Montaraz. The Spanish trip, which was also planned to be from March 24 to March 28, was split up into three different locations with about 15 students on each: Madrid, Seville, and Valencia. 

The purpose of the trip was for students to immerse themselves in Spanish culture and language. Some of the activities involved were meeting students of similar ages in different schools, tasting the authentic Spanish food, having cooking and dance lessons, as well as exploring the city and places outside that city too.

Eighth grade students take Spanish cooking lessons in 2019 as part of their language trip to Valencia (photo from Scroll archives).

When the trip was cancelled, Alvarez was disappointed with the decision but also agreed with the school’s opinion. He said, “I am really sad because I was really excited about the trip, about the students that were going on the trip, and about the opportunity that the students are given to improve their skills during this trip. It is not until we return that they realize how well they’ve done and how good their Spanish has become… However, my main concern is always the health and safety of the students and the families, and I would never have risked it.”

Like Alvarez and others interviewed, eighth grader Yifei Yan, who was supposed to go on the Spanish trip, expressed disappointment in the trip’s cancellation. He said, “It’s a shame that the trips got canceled because the trips were an opportunity for us to engage. It was an opportunity for us to engage in the culture of the languages we are studying and to enrich our understanding of it.” 

Families are not charged any money until after the trips conclude. They are given a letter stating how much the trip might actually cost, and based on that they decide whether they want their children to go on the trip or not. They are not charged until the final expenses of the trips are noted afterwards, and then the school sends an invoice to the parents. 

In terms of how much money the school will be able to get refunded from the trips, Mr. Lutkoski said, “There will probably be some things that we can get money back for but not everything. Sometimes the way it works is we pay a tour operator, and they will have that money in their account ready to pay for meals and things like that. If the money hasn’t been spent, then we should be able to get it back, but most of the money would already be committed to aspects of the trip that we would not be able to get back.”

News Editor Clara Martinez contributed to this article.

Editors’ note: Originally published on March 2, this article was updated on March 7 to include quotes from French trip leader Madame Pothain in addition to adding information about alternative day trips being cancelled.

About Sophia Bassi ('24)

News Editor 2019-20

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