When the COVID-19 pandemic effectively put an end to a scheduled trip to Spain planned by El Camino High in the spring of 2020, Spanish teacher Cynthia Espinor was devastated.
She felt sad for all the students who had signed up for the educational excursion, especially since many had never traveled internationally before, and she was disappointed that the work she had put in to help organize the trip appeared to have been wasted.
So when the 2022 school year began, there was a lot of pent up demand and momentum for a redo.
“I feel like these kids, especially since the pandemic has happened, they really need something normal,” said Espinor. “I think they really need this.”
The new, 11-day trip planned for March 2023 will take students from Barcelona and Valencia on the northeastern coast to Costa del Sol in the south and then to the city of Seville in Andalusia and finally to the Spanish capital of Madrid.
Espinor said she believes the trip will provide students with a chance to develop maturity and a greater sense of responsibility.
“It’s just very noticeable that they are different than kids prior to COVID, and they need a lot more support,” said Espinor.
English teacher Derek Padilla, who has taught at El Camino for 26 years, agrees.
He said students who participate in travel study tours carry themselves differently when they return.
“What I realized is that they definitely had to learn to become more independent, that was definitely the most important thing for them, having to exist in life without their parents hand holding them.”
Padilla has been leading educational trips abroad for El Camino since 2015. They include summer trips to London, Paris, Florence, and Rome from 2015 to 2017 with an additional stop in Athens in 2018. In the spring of 2019, Padilla pivoted to Asia.
“The students preferred Japan, and they were tired of Europe,” he explained.
According to the long-time English teacher, El Camino has a history of educating students through travel. In the late 2000s individual teachers led domestic trips to DC and organized “sojourns” to the South.
In 2020, Padilla was supposed to join Espinor’s trip to Spain as a chaperone and then lead a subsequent summer trip to Venice, Munich, Zurich, and Prague, but the pandemic shut down those plans.
This school year, Padilla will return to Japan for the summer of 2023 and then lead students on a tour of South Korea and Japan in the summer of 2024.
He said the impetus for the international trips began organically, almost by accident. While Padilla was serving as activities director for the school’s associated student body (ASB) leadership group in 2015, the students had wanted to attend a leadership summit for environmental issues in Costa Rica, where Professor Jane Goodall was slated to speak.
However, when tickets for that event sold out, Padilla discovered that students could travel to Europe for a cheaper price.
“To me, it’s very important that they realize there are different approaches to life,” Padilla said of his students. “I feel like most of them are very sheltered here. . . and it’s more important to get as many as want to go to visit something outside of our Bay Area bubble.”
For more information about El Camino’s spring and summer trips, contact Ms. Espinor and Mr. Padilla respectively.