COLUMBIA — From the forests to the volcanoes, Columbia Public School students and staff members are on their way to Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks.
On Saturday afternoon, 126 students and their parents crammed the Aslin Administration Center near West Junior High before the students piled onto five large coach buses headed west.
The students are attending the first of two weeklong field trips to two of America's most popular national parks. The students will be joined by 25 staff members and will stay at Teton Science Center in Jackson, Wyo., and will explore the parks each day. The second group, made of 80 students, will depart for its trip next Saturday.
"I love watching the kids step into the big coach buses for the first time," said Mike Szydlowski, the district's science coordinator and the trip's organizer. "For many it is the first time being away from home without parents."
For sisters Ji Ho, Ji Su and Ji Young Kim, who range in grades from seventh to eleventh, this will be their first big break from their parents.
"I'm most excited about being independent from my parents," Ji Ho said. "We've been away from them once, but just for a few days."
The Kims came to Columbia from South Korea last summer. Young Sam Kim, the girls' father, said they decided to take a break from their jobs and move to Columbia. He first heard about the science trip in a letter from the school and decided it would be a good experience for his daughters.
"I want them to experience American nature, and the English culture," Young Sam Kim said.
Seventh-grader Jenna Gittemeier worked odd jobs to raise the money to pay for her trip.
"I cut grass, cleaned around the house, and did chores to work for the money," Jenna said.
The science trip cost $790 per student, and was open to students from sixth to twelfth grade.
Once at the park, Szydlowski said the students are split into groups of 12 or 13 based on their ages. Each day the groups will drive to specific locations in the park, where they will explore, hike and learn before returning to the lodge by 4 p.m. Additional programs will run throughout the evenings.
Last year 77 students participated in the inagural science trip, and this year more than 200 students will be attending. The last trip was a success and this year many of those students will be coming back and bringing friends with them, Szydlowski said.
"I very much enjoy watching how excited the students get when seeing their first wild moose, bison or bear," Szydlowski said. "The students have so much fun on this trip they forget that they are learning all day long."
Supervising editor is Zachary Matson.