Rome Free Academy special education teacher JoAnne Ambrose says “I just love to travel,” plus she feels travel can provide “lots of benefits” for students. She is co-adviser of the RFA Travel Club, which took 13 RFA students on a trip to Italy and Greece from April 21-May 1.
It is in its third year as an organized club, said Ambrose. She noted the club can help members develop various skills such as strengthening independence, increasing knowledge and appreciation for different cultures, and developing critical thinking skills. Its activities also include some smaller regional trips that involve additional students.
Experiences in the club “have excited students to continue to travel and strengthen their ongoing personal growth,” commented Ambrose. The club’s other co-adviser is RFA history teacher Cynthia Arthur; Ambrose said Arthur spearheads fundraising to help pay for trips, while Ambrose spearheads the trips themselves.
For future trips, the club is “looking for corporate sponsors and donations that will help defray the cost for our travelers,” said Ambrose. She noted “we have not had any sponsors to date, but would love to see the students supported by the community” if possible.
Reactions to overseas trip
Ambrose’s enthusiasm for the club was reflected by RFA students following the visit to Italy and Greece.
It was an “amazing trip...very well organized, very well put together,” said sophomore Nick Jordan. He cited the opportunities to see many different locations. The trip was “definitely worth the money,” he added. Among the sites, “I saw the Roman Colosseum,” he said of the famed ancient structure, adding that a lot of people will not see that “in their lifetimes.”
Among other students’ comments in post-trip evaluations, said Ambrose:
• Alessandra Ciotti — “I learned to always give new people a chance to show you who they really are.”
• Kate Mastracco — “As a result of this trip, I want to see more countries and see their different cultures.”
• Sarah Crockett — “You have to learn how to get along with others. It helps you get ready for college because you have to room with other people and you learn the fine art of personal space with your roommates.”
• Jeremy Fargas — “This trip opened me to many more experiences and people, changing my outlook on different cultures.”
Besides the Colosseum, Ambrose said among sites visited were the Roman Forum, Pantheon, Vatican City, St. Peter’s Basilica, Sistine Chapel, Pompeii, Acropolis, Temple of Athena Nike, Olympic Stadium, Temple of Olympian Zeus, and the Parthenon.
“During our excursions, students walked the same grounds as Julius Caesar and Socrates. They saw first-hand where historical events took place, which deepened their understanding of the history and culture of both ancient Rome and ancient Greece,” Ambrose said.
She added that “by embracing each new experience, students have gained much knowledge...and return to RFA as more mature, more confident, more open-minded and better critical-thinking students. These skills will serve them well in college and beyond.”
Trip costs and fundraising
The trip’s cost per student was $4,435. Ambrose said it was all-inclusive, covering airfare and other transportation; breakfast and dinner; a bilingual tour director plus tours with local guides; entrances to attractions; and insurance.
Among trip fundraisers, Ambrose mentioned candy sales, mum and poinsettia sales, a “Breakfast with Santa” event, working the RFA Snack Shack, a “Wendy’s night” event, and Go Fund Me accounts. She also cited “individual efforts and much assistance from our parent boosters.”
The club’s other international trips have included Costa Rica, and the year after that it went to Scotland, England and France, said Ambrose. Trips are open to students and their family, plus RFA staff and alumni. One adult chaperone is assigned for each group of six students. The Italy and Greece trip had five adult travelers including some parents, district employees and district administrative spouses.
Destinations are determined based on student surveys and input, followed by Board of Education approval. Ambrose said “we are fortunate to have a superintendent and board members who see the value of international travel.”
Regarding how much of the student trip costs are raised through fundraising, Ambrose said it varies for each traveler.
The club is “always looking for new ideas, but have not yet found a large ticket fundraiser that will cover most, if not all of the student cost,” Ambrose remarked. For sponsors, she said the club would feature “the business name and logo on the yearly destination t-shirt, which is worn often. We would also feature sponsors on our morning Travel Club announcements, and show their name and involvement throughout RFA on the large flat-screen televisions throughout the school. We are certainly willing to consider other forms of recognition sponsors may suggest.”
People who are interested in donating for the club can contact Ambrose at RFAtravelclub@romecsd.org by email.
Plenty of opportunities
The club’s other activities during school years have included some less distant trips such as to Destiny mall’s WonderWorks park, New York City, and white-water rafting. Ambrose said “we try to do one large and two small trips each year to accommodate everyone,” commenting “we have kids at all travel and comfort levels.”
Among parents expressing support as noted by Ambrose was Sheila Ciotti, who went on the Italy and Greece trip and said “this may be the only way students can visit and learn other ways of the world.” Ambrose also referred to parent Donna Stevener who said “whether the students go on the local trips or international, there are opportunities for students they might not otherwise have.”