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Way to go! Students earn their passage to California

A group of students learned one of life’s biggest lessons – the right attitude can reap great rewards. For 13 Covenant Canadian Reformed School teenagers it meant an unforgettable trip to California, making them the envy of their peers.

A group of students learned one of life’s biggest lessons – the right attitude can reap great rewards.

For 13 Covenant Canadian Reformed School teenagers it meant an unforgettable trip to California, making them the envy of their peers.

After surfing in Crescent City, going on a jet boat tour of Gold Beach, visiting San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and shopping in Chinatown, they returned with enough memories to last a lifetime.

But behind the fun lay months of hard work and preparation for members of the private school’s recently formed travel club.

The inspiration for the club was high school teacher Quinton Harthoorn, who saw it as a way of reversing negative attitudes and motivating students to achieve their goals.

He also wanted them to learn to work together, as well as become self-sufficient.

“I told the class ‘if you want to do something then make it happen … you should grab life yourselves.’”

Before leaving the room, the grade 11 and 12 students decided they would love to go to California. Easier said than done, of course.

Nevertheless, 13 were brave enough to commit themselves, and in March 2010 set about raising $10,000 to cover the cost.

The six boys and seven girls, aged 17 and 18, took part in a number of fundraisers, including picking rocks from farmers’ fields, a bottle drive, removing snow from rooftops and weeding an organic garden.

Bit by bit they neared their target until the magic number was reached. But that was not the only hurdle.

There was, of course, a mammoth organizational challenge, which Harthoorn shared with his charges.

“We had to book campsites and various activities, such as the jet tour,” he said.

The group hired a couple of vans, while a third vehicle, an SUV and trailer, was to be driven by a parent.

Finally they were ready – ahead lay a 5,500-6,000 kilometre, 11-day, 10-night voyage through some of the world’s most spectacular scenery, including the Rocky Mountains and redwood forests.

They also passed through Seattle and Portland, Ore., and visited a church in Washington.

Harthoorn, a math and physical education teacher, did a lot of driving, but it didn’t bother him at all.

“When you see such beautiful scenery you don’t mind it.”

En route they stopped off at campsites, where they cooked themselves hamburgers, chicken and chili and ate sandwiches, cereal and lots of fruit.

Finally they reached California and fulfilled many a beachgoer’s fantasy – surfing.

The group recorded several highlights of their trip on a blog (ccrscalifornia.blogspot.com), which was avidly followed by parents and students in the lower grades. It was also read by people from as far away as Indonesia.

One part of the blog reads: “We’ve created memories that will last us the rest of our lives. Everyone will remember that first glimpse of the ocean; the cold air as we jumped out of the vehicles, excited and exasperated by the utter vastness before us, leaving us with quiet awe.”

The blog also pays tribute to Harthoorn, travel club director, athletic director and guidance counsellor.

“Thank you for seeing an opportunity and for motivating us to achieve this trip. You saw our miffed feelings about our school and the little opportunity we have and you turned it around and created the travel club.”

Harthoorn said the club is now a fixture at the Neerlandia school, which has about 190 children enrolled, from kindergarten to Grade 12. Every two years members can look forward to a trip.

“We hope the club will motivate students to stay on at school,” he said.