Studying abroad is often the hallmark of college students’ careers, but thanks to an Illinois charter public school, some students are receiving that experience earlier.
Galapagos Rockford Charter School, an elementary school about two-and-a-half hours west of Chicago, has sent students to Costa Rica for the past three years. This past summer, the charter public school expanded its study abroad opportunities by taking two alumni on a group trip to Uganda and Rwanda.
“Our goal is to expose our scholars–even former ones– to experiences outside of Rockford that really can expand their understanding of the world,” Galapagos CEO Michael Lane said. “We also aim to expose them to places, ideas, and activities that they can latch onto and perhaps find what interests them moving forward.”
The trip, made possible through a partnership with the Global Livingston Institute, enabled 30 students and chaperons from across the United States to cultivate leadership skills and learn about different cultures. The group visited the U.S. Embassy, a co-op focused on women’s empowerment, and even went on a safari that featured hippos, water buffalos and elephants.
Tiffani Singleton, a current high school junior and previous valedictorian at Galapagos, said her favorite memory of the trip was the safari, but the most eye-opening experience was the group’s visit to the Kampala slums, one of the largest, poorest areas in Uganda.
After acquiring permission from the local government, the group walked through Kampala, met with families and played soccer and basketball with the children. Students also witnessed some of the dire living conditions, which included open ditches filled with human waste.
“It was something you would never see here in America,” Singleton said. “It was kind of heartbreaking for me to watch it. It makes me more thankful for what I have.”
Singleton said this part of the trip also influenced her plans for a career in medicine. Singleton saw a need in Africa for greater medical assistance, especially in the form of vaccinations. Now, she said she’s considering practicing medicine in foreign countries with need.
The trip culminated in a three-day youth summit where students joined youth groups from Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo to learn from each other and discuss common issues in their communities.
Lane said the trip was such a success that Galapagos plans to continue and grow the number of students who attend each year to four or five. Our goals is that, in a decade, Galapagos will have sent fifty Rockford students to Africa. Current elementary students are already looking forward to that day, Lane said.
To learn more and support Galapagos, visit https://www.galapagoscharter.org.