Students, start packing.
Eligible county high-schoolers are being encouraged to participate in potentially life-changing summer programs that could see them learning to cook in Italy, enjoying eco-adventures in Australia, or gaining valuable leadership skills in California, among other educational excursions.
Schools Superintendent Mark Porter this week announced informational meetings for students, parents and staff at each area secondary school regarding applying to the Experiment in International Living (EIL) program, which provides "thematic" immersion adventures at countries on every continent, except Antarctica.
Another program, Leadership, Excellence, Accelerating Potential (LEAP), is also now accepting applications for its weeklong summer session, which takes place at the University of California, Las Angeles.
The EIL meetings will take place at 8:30 a.m. Monday at Coral Shores High School, 8:30 a.m. Tuesday at Marathon High School, and 8:45 a.m. Wednesday at Key West High School. A meeting will be held either Tuesday or Wednesday at the Key West Collegiate Academy charter school.
Chris Franz, deputy director of EIL, will then return to the county in March to meet with applicants.
"Kids who go on these EIL trips come back with their self-confidence overflowing," said Monroe County Education Foundation President John Padget. "To a person, they feel liberated that they could travel alone. These are experiences that will stay with them for the rest of their lives."
Information regarding student eligibility, financial aid and program dates for EIL is available at www.experimentinternational.org.
Students interested in the LEAP program should visit http://leapfoundationusa.org.
"We've been participating in the EIL program for six years now," Padget said. "And we've been doing LEAP for three years. So far, we've had over 120 Monroe County high school students taking part in these programs."
Superintendent Porter echoed Padget's enthusiasm for the programs.
"In my experience, travel and cultural immersion are invaluable for teenagers looking to broaden themselves," Porter wrote in a press release. "Most students use one of their travel experiences as the basis for their college application essays. These essays often make the difference when college officers make admissions decisions."
The EIL trips are intentionally arranged so that students don't know anyone in the groups they're put in. They live and learn with host families in the countries they visit, learning about the local culture in a fashion that is decidedly "non-touristy."
Key West High School student Zachary Stratton, who went to south China with an EIL trip last year, wrote that, "The EIL trip ... was one of the single most life-altering events of my life. The experiment has taught me more about the world at large and myself than I could have possibly imagined."
Another student, Alexis Salvatore of Coral Shores High, wrote, "The best part about my stay in an Italian family was definitely the meals. There's truly nothing like a home-cooked Italian dish. From pasta to fish, prosciutto, mozzarella, you name it."
For the LEAP program, students live in dorms on campus, and take part in such activities as seminars with celebrities.
Padget urged interested students to start planning right away. "Many of our kids have to go and get a passport," he said. "Now's the time to get registered. There is financial aid for those who qualify. But it's first-come, first-served for the aid, and for the choice of programs."
For more information, call Jeremy Wilkerson at 305-293-1546.