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A Once in a Lifetime Opportunity

I WAS THERE!!!

I was gifted the amazing opportunity to travel to Europe this spring with some staff and students from my school to commemorate the Vimy 100 celebrations. We travelled through France and did all the expected "touristy" things - Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysees, Notre Dame... We also paid our respects to fallen Canadian soldiers at a number of cemeteries maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Before we left, we all researched the lives of soldiers buried in those cemeteries in order to make this experience more real. The kids made connections with real people and families whose lives were more immediately impacted by the tremendous sacrifice that was made for the sake of the freedom of Canadians in the generations that would come afterward. Next we passed through the Flanders, Ypres and Passchendaele in picturesque Belgium. A very interesting and "educational" few days were spent in Amsterdam, where students received a very warm welcome from the mayor Bergen-Opp Zoom, welcoming them and applauding them for recognizing the importance  of this historic event. Finally, we ended our pilgrimage in Germany, where we explore the very metropolitan Berlin and stood in awe of such sites of Budestag and the what remains of the Berlin wall.

This was the first overseas and overnight excursion I have taken since becoming a VP. I think that it's important for administrators to go on these trips to support staff and develop relationships with students. Admittedly, I had forgotten all the work that it takes to put such a tremendous itinerary together and I had a new appreciation for the amount of time that staff had invested in working with the tour operator to design such an unforgettable experience. This time away, 10 days to be exact, gave me time to speak with these teachers, uninterrupted, about a number of topics, some shop and some not.

 I really appreciated being able to make connections with the teachers and I think they got to know me a little better too.

At school, staff act as surrogate parents to our kids but when you are travelling and spending so much time together, that custodial dimension takes on a whole new life. Most of these kids had never travelled before or used a passport. That's right! For some, this trip marked the first time they ever flew on a plane! There is a special sort of vulnerability that becomes noticeable. We took the opportunity to encourage as much free
 exploration as possible to help build their confidence, even though they were so far from home. Students figured out quickly that they had to be resourceful and manage their time and ultimately, they did. I was really proud of them. Now no trip would be complete without a little bit of drama - lost passports, too much money spent and a trip to the emergency room... Nothing we couldn't handle and smile about later.

When we got back, those faces in the hallways that I always smiled at and recognized now had

 names that I knew and shared experiences. I feel so blessed to be connected to these kids and teachers, having gone on such an extraordinary journey. As a former teacher of History, I felt like I was walking on air everywhere I went. I hadn't been to Europe since I was age of the kids that we took. I very vividly remember how I felt coming home from Europe when I was 17 years and I could see a very familiar look in the eyes of our kids when we greeted our families who were anxiously waiting for us at the airport.

I think every administrator needs to take a trip like this every now and then to make these important connections and share these significant and wonderful memories.

To Cindy, Steve and Mark: I can't thank you enough for the privilege of having accompanied you and these wonderful students on this trip that I will never forget.


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