French Schools Do Something Right!

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grade 3 ski trip france
Pyrenees elementary school ski trip

Daniel left with one large pack; one the school required him able to carry on his own and a knapsack with a ham and butter baguette brown-bagged lunch for the bus ride up. He was ready for five nights and six days away from home to ski in the Pyrenees Mountains with his Grade three class.

The trip cost us 140Euros matched by the Marie so everyone could afford it.

‘Are you sure you want to go Daniel?’ I asked, his little face all smiles as he decided, ‘I don’t want to miss out.’ Is all he came up with.

Truth is, with his language barrier, building relationships with his classmates is essential. He is a big-hearted child, sensitive and loving and once they know him, they will except him; silly humour and all.

We hesitantly agreed, and sent him off with hugs and kisses. He doesn’t like being away from us, and this would be a lesson for all of us to be apart.

His fearless teacher Sandy had some help with the field trip. The driver of the bus, two teacher’s aids and a friend of hers rounded out the staff for the journey. She assured us, “It will be great!” The kids loaded up on the bus. Daniel pushed his face up to the window as we took a final photo, and we waved goodbye. Yes I cried, just a little.

Before the trip we prepared Daniel with knowing what was in his suitcase, the layout, where everything he needed was, and how to put his warm ski clothes on. Once there, Johan a 26 year old man that works at the ski hill helped the Capestang kids with getting them ready for each daily activity, to and from the canteen and for bed. He spoke a little English and made quick friends with Daniel. That helped him out quite a bit in feeling safe while he was away, knowing someone could understand him no matter what.

Vignole is the name of the hotel they stayed at, which caters to schools and has rooms full of bunk beds. They have well-organized plans to teach the kids how to ski. When they got up to the snow covered hills, the group was divided into intermediates and beginners. Daniel started on the towrope, and progressed quickly. Two hours of lessons each day followed by hot showers. The kids had the time of their lives, and every child seemed to have a blast, or so Daniel told us once he got home.

Everyday they had other activities to keep the group of 8-9 year olds very busy. On the bus ride up and down they watched a movie, and on another day they went to a medieval church ruin with an oven that uses the sun’s rays. They also went to a natural hot spring pool that smelled like rotten eggs that had medicinal qualities and kids loved the experience. The last day they went shopping for souvenirs. We gave Daniel 20€ for his school trip to spend as he wished.

We received a post card from Daniel on Wednesday, sent the morning after his first night, a night he got very little sleep. On the front, ‘Le Passet’ in the Pyrenees Catalanes, a picture with a snow capped mountain reflected in a beautiful crystal clear lake, I turned it over to read:

Mommy and Daddy I wish I did not come to ski. I love you. I have been crying everyday like crazy. I like the food, the skiing is nice. I miss you xoxox Daniel!

It was in the neatest handwriting I had ever seen from an eight year old and of course it broke my heart.

The fact that I truly had no idea where he was to go save him, or that I couldn’t find any information on the internet on how to get there to save my poor boy from this pain, left me no choice but to except it. He must get through this no matter how hard and learn how to deal with his emotions without me there to help him through.

Worried the next few days about how he was getting on, finally Saturday came. We picked him up from the school at 6:00pm. I was anxious but not alone, as many of the parents let their children go away from them for the first time as well.

Daniel came off the bus, pushing his way through the crowd to get to me. He reached into his pocket to give me a flower he had picked for me, now nearly dry.

He told us there was way more good than bad. He was emotional, tired, seemed 10 years older, and I looked at my boy, tanned face from reflective sun, and I hardly recognized him. He had some personal growth on this experience and he had matured from the time he left to that moment of return.

When we got home, he gave each of us a gift. A beautiful pair of red dangling earrings from the gift shop slipped out of a hand made wrapper from a piece of colored paper. I cried. He said ‘oh mommy I missed you like crazy’, and hugged me so hard.

No matter how much you prepare your kids for a trip something will always go a stray. I was unloading his bag and found his underwear untouched. Daniel said, ‘You forgot to pack underpants!’ But he managed and turned them inside out. Now that’s using your head.

With Daniel away, we realized he is the centre point, the very heart of our family. Without him our family is very quiet and incomplete.

We are glad he is home, safe and sound, clean underpants and all. I am sure we will go visit the Pyrenees together as a family very soon.