A year ago Vincent Dutton stepped into opulence - the palace at Versailles.
Until then, the Del Norte High School student had never been out of the United States. He had never been on a plane and the farthest he had traveled was to Los Angeles. So when school district employee Patti Rommel gave him and other students an opportunity to see France and Germany, Dutton, who had studied European history at College of the Redwoods, took it.
"I always wanted to travel around the world," said Dutton, who will be a senior next year. "I learned about the Louvre
and all the kings that lived there and I actually got to go visit the Louvre. It was awesome connecting the history I learned with things I could actually see."
Rommel and her colleague, Cheryl Simonson, have taken students to Europe through their "European Edventures" program for the past two years. This year, instead of seeing stately palaces, six Del Norte students will leave Crescent City on Saturday for the Costa Rican jungle.
Four graduating seniors and two sophomores will come face to face with migrating sea turtles and whiz through the rain forest on a zip line. At the same time, they'll learn about how human activity has changed the forest's ecosystem, travel with students from Pennsylvania and Texas and meet a few Costa Rican elementary school kids, Simonson said.
"It'll be exciting for them," Simonson said. "The whole trip is a learning component. That's what the emphasis is. Learning culture, history ... everything that you would do in a classroom you're doing in physical time."
Rommel said she and Simonson came up with European Edventures following a conversation with Del Norte High's world language teachers. They spoke about trips world language departments at other schools were able to organize and lamented the lack of time they had to do the same, Rommel said.
Rommel remembered her experience in Rome as a foreign exchange student in high school and volunteered to make such trips a reality for Del Norte High School students. Up to that point, the only Del Norte students who traveled extensively were in the music program, she said.
"I said I would love to try to organize something if you wanted me to," Rommel said. "They said that would be great."
Rommel and Simonson unsuccessfully tried to organize a trip in 2011 and realized that the best way to offer an oversees trip to students would be to partner with an educational tour company. They chose Education First Tours, which offered a variety of trips with special tour guides in the time frame that worked best for Del Norte High, Rommel said. For their inaugural trips last year Rommel took a group of students to France and Germany while Simonson took students to Spain.
Rommel said working with Education First Tours was less expensive than if she and Simonson had organized a trip themselves, but they still needed to raise money.
"We had some really neat fundraisers making crepes that the kids would sell all over the community and we would deliver them," Rommel said. "Then we got involved in being at the Farmer's Market every week and had car washes - everything you can think of to raise money so these kids could go on the trip."
Rommel made an appearance at the Crescent City Farmer's Market on Saturday, selling bowls of taco soup. The proceeds will be used to help pay for the Costa Rica trip, she said.
In many cases, students' families are helping pay for the trip as well.
Simonson said for many of her students this is the first time they've been on a plane, let alone leaving the country and experiencing the quagmire of going through customs. Last year many were also initially apprehensive to be in a strange country, but they got over it quickly, she said.
"They realize the world isn't as big as it seems when you live in a little town like ours," Simonson said. "To go all the way over to Spain, in their mind it seemed like they were going to the end of the Earth. Then when you realize a lot of people speak English it wasn't as scary as I think they thought it was going to be."
Dutton said he returned from France and Germany different than when he went away. As he nears his senior year and begins thinking about colleges, Dutton said he's looking for a program that will let him study abroad in France or maybe Italy.
"I realized there was a lot out there in the world besides small town Crescent City," he said. "The food, the people, the monuments, everything definitely influenced my life."
In addition to making the final preparations for the Costa Rica trip, Rommel and Simonson are making Del Norte High students aware of an opportunity to visit China and take part in Education First's Global Student Leaders Summit in March 2014.
Twelve students from Del Norte and Humboldt counties have a chance to go, Rommel said. Students will spend two days in Beijing seeing the Great Wall and the Terra-cotta Warriors before traveling to Shanghai for the summit. The summit's speakers include Jon Huntsman Jr., the country's former ambassador to China, as well as Alex Blumberg and Adam Davidson of NPR's "Planet Money."
Reach Jessica Cejnar at email@example.com .