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Trip of a lifetime for two Elk Valley students


The two grade 7 students at École Sophie-Morigeau (ESM), Fernie’s francophone school, have recently returned from a school exchange in France. Jakob Wilde of Elkford and Clara Michal of Fernie, spent two weeks in Saoû, a community of around 600 people in the Drôme department of France, 150km south of Lyon. They attended school at École publique de Saoû, which has 69 students, similar to École Sophie-Morigeau’s 55.

This project was the brainchild of ESM grade 4-5-6-7 teacher, Alice Dubief, and her counterpart Martine Guillerme, CM1-CM2 (equivalent to grade 5-6) teacher and Principal at the school in Saoû.

“Martine and I met through Comenius, a European program that facilitates a better understanding of cultures and values across countries. Martine and I have been collaborating on this since the start of the school year. Our classes have exchanged many letters, emails and even an e-book in the lead-up to this trip.”

Clara and Jakob did week-long stints in separate host families for their fourteen days in Saoû, both to a new household mid-way.

“The families there spent a lot of time outside. They took me rock climbing, kayaking biking and tennis.”, said Jakob of his time in Saoû, adding that family life in France was similar to his own.

Clara who experienced life on a rural duck farm, driving a tractor and milking goats with her host siblings the first week, then living right in the village, rollerblading to school every day and eating a large communal lunch with her new host siblings and their cousins her second week, found it, “different, but [I] learned a lot and it was really fun to be able to see what life was like [there].”

In the lead-up to this trip, the students themselves raised more than $1,500 through creation and sales of sugar pie tarts and charcuterie boards. This, in combination with donated airline points and a small donation from ESM’s parent committee allowed the students to cover all their travel costs.

“It’s important for students to understand the financials of travel,” says Marie-Eve Cantin, ESM Principal. “[These fundraisers] help develop many characteristics of responsible citizens. [They also allow] these trips to be inclusive to all students wishing to participate, keeping parent investment to a minimum.”

The charcuterie board manufacture was taught to the students by Kristina and Doug Wilde of Elkford, Jakob’s parents.

“Having the ability to learn along side the students while making the charcuterie boards was such a fun experience,” said Kristina. “We had so much support from the community and Dr. Laser to help us learn small tricks along the way. This [whole] trip was amazing to be part of; this is something that I am not sure we would have been able to organize without the amazing teachers, support staff, parents and students that all helped for this unforgettable learning experience. It is a great thing for the students to be able to apply all of their learning thus far.”

Inevitably, the students encountered some big differences between life in France and in the Elk Valley. The school day runs from 8:50-4:45, but includes a two-hour lunch catered by the school canteen or taken at home. Writing in cursive at school is still the standard. Chocolate at breakfast is a thing. Dinner doesn’t even start until 8 p.m., and Wednesdays are a day off for extracurriculars. Phones stay tucked away during social gatherings.

And they have returned with a different lens than when they left. “In the few days I’ve had them back in class, they both seem to have matured. Jakob’s still writing in cursive and Clara is delving into more challenging French verb tenses,” says Alice Dubief, their teacher.

Marie-Eve Cantin, Principal of ESM, has plans for these kinds of trips to continue. “It’s a project we’d like to continue in coming years, internationally for older students and within the province for the younger ones. I believe it’s really important to give students an opportunity to discover the world and meet others like them who are living in French every day. An experience like that can’t be replicated in a classroom.”

Both Clara and Jakob now have high hopes to return to France, to explore more of the country and reunite with their new friends and families.


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