ELLSWORTH — If all goes as planned, Ellsworth High School students will have the chance to follow in Charles Darwin’s footsteps.
At a meeting on Oct. 9, the Ellsworth School Board approved an 11-day trip to Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands in June 2020.
“It’s a very unique opportunity,” Ellsworth High School Spanish teacher Carolyn Richards Kutny told the board.
Students will spend three days in mainland Ecuador, Kutny said, and six days traveling between the islands.
The cost of the trip is $4,460 per student.
Kutny said the group will fundraise as much as possible.
“It sounds far-flung and exotic,” said Kutny in an interview after the meeting. But she feels it’s necessary to “compete in the international world.”
“We want to build a community culture at Ellsworth High School where travel is not only possible but encouraged,” Kutny said. “Travel has always been expensive. It always will be expensive. It is a mindset. You have to decide if that’s something you want to spend your money on, to broaden your mind. It’s worth it.”
Kutny said she brought the trip to the board so far in advance in order to give students time to fundraise and work for money. The fee can be paid in monthly installments, which works out to just under $250 per month if students start now.
“The last thing I would want is for this to become something only wealthy kids have access to,” Kutny said. “If I waited until next year the cost would be the same and they would have only had 10 months to pay the money.”
The fee covers airfare, ground transportation, breakfast and dinner, hotels and entrance fees. It does not include the cost of a bus to Logan Airport, lunch (estimated around $200), tips, spending money or any passport fees. Parents can join for an extra $5,010.
There is no limit to the number of students who can attend, Kutny said. One teacher travels for free for every six students.
Asked whether this resulted in students covering the fare for teachers, Kutny said the cost was likely rolled into the student fees but that teachers put a lot of time (and often money spent on childcare) participating in fundraising events and planning, Kutny said.
It is understood that “students will cover the majority of costs,” Kutny wrote in a memo to board members. “I think it is reasonable to expect families to pay for the total cost of the program, and we will fundraise for the cost of the items not included.”
“The goal of what I’m trying to do is to create travel opportunities abroad and make them as learning enriched and interdisciplinary as possible.”
Five of the 21 Galápagos Islands, which straddle the equator west of Ecuador, are inhabited, with a total population around 27,000 residents. Travel to the area is limited, allowing visitors only in small groups for short shifts and requiring a licensed guide.
“They limit travel heavily,” Kutny said. “You basically have to be on an educational tour or a permitted research scientist” to visit the national park.
Students will study the biology, ecology, colonial history and language of the islands prior to the trip, said Kutny (the primary language in Ecuador is Spanish).
Plans include visits to orchid and butterfly gardens, a cloud forest, volcano hiking and, hopefully, sightings of blue-footed booby birds and the giant Galápagos tortoise.