BAYFIELD — Eight Bayfield students, four teachers and two community members are taking a 15-day cultural immersion trip from July 9 –23 to the Lake Baikal region in Russia.
“This project is designed to increase our school community’s knowledge and understanding of the significant ways in which Lake Superior and Lake Baikal have created and continue to create the culture of the communities within their watersheds,” said Rick Erickson, a Bayfield High School science and alternative education teacher, who’s been inspiring kids for the last 20 years.
Erickson came up with this idea several years ago and he and his students have been laying the groundwork ever since. One student, Kaytie Hintz-Knopf, has even been studying Russian.
“Kaytie will be our sole Russian speaker. She has been teaching herself Russian for a few years and has participated in Russian language programs through the Concordia Language Village,” Erickson said.
In fact, she’ll be attending Concordia Language Village for a third year this summer right before leaving on the trip to Russia.
“Kaytie’s trying to teach all of us, but we’re pretty slow learners,” Erickson added.
Luckily, the Russians Erickson and his students have been communicating with speak English fluently. Nonetheless, it’ll be handy to have a Russian speaker on the trip.
The group will take a direct flight from New York to Moscow where they’ll sightsee for a few days. Dave Awtry, a former instructor in the Washburn School District and his partner, Peggy Smith, a former administrator in the Ashland School District, have helped to organize this leg of the trip.
“They currently teach at a school in Moscow,” Erickson said. “They’ve set us up in the school where we’ll be staying. And a woman who works there is going to act as our guide for those two or three days.”
The Kremlin, Red Square, the Russian ballet, the Moscow circus —these are just a few of the places and events they’ll be visiting.
Erickson said the idea for this trip is primarily to
Sometimes it’s easier to appreciate someone else’s culture first before valuing one’s own, he said. To highlight this appreciation, the whole trip will be documented through film and eventually shown to the community back home as well as in Russia.
“David Doering, a tech ed teacher at Bayfield School, is going to be coaching the students, who are the videographers on the project,” Erickson said.
They’ve already started filming in their own backyards. A former Bayfield student, Ali Gephart, a chaperone on the trip, will also be a film assistant.
“She’s just changing her major, transferring to Madison from La Crosse, where she’s going to major in communications. Part of her focus is on film,” Erickson said.
After Moscow, the plan is to fly to Irkutsk, a city of less than a million people in the Lake Baikal watershed. Irkutsk sits on the Angara River which flows out of Lake Baikal on the south end. Each student along with one adult will stay with six different host families in Irkutsk.
“For two days we’ll be acclimating, meeting with host families and students who go to the school,” Erickson said.
Some of the Russian students will join the Bayfield team for a five-day trek which includes a ride on the Trans Siberian Railroad, a hike, and some ferry travel to three or four different villages on the shore of Lake Baikal.
“Then we’ll go back to Irkutsk, spend a couple of days there, have a little celebration with the host families and fly back home,” Erickson said.
This whole package will cost approximately $55,000, which translates to approximately $4,000 per student.
Erickson said. “We’ve received substantial funding from the School District of Bayfield, the Bayfield Community Education Foundation, the Chequamegon Bay Arts Council, the Apostle Islands Community Fund, the Apostle Islands Historic Preservation Conservancy, Xcel Energy, Bayfield Lions and several private donors.”
As a result, they’ve been able to reduce the cost to approximately $1,200 per student. However, they’re still hoping to raise additional funds to lessen the financial burden for those families who can’t afford it.
“We also want to purchase some gifts for the host families that are easily managed in luggage— small and lightweight — things that represent the area,” he said.
Last year Erickson and his students sent wild rice and maple syrup to their Russian friends whom they’ve been corresponding with for a few years. Some of the students are preparing small dream catchers and little agate pendants.
“Lissa from the Binational Forum is donating postcards,” Erickson said.
Everyone’s getting excited about the trip. They have their passports and are in the midst of securing entry visas.
“We meet monthly to discuss updated plans, travel plans, packing ideas, etc. And we’re all trying to learn a little language under the instructions of Kaytie,” Erickson said.
And the filmmakers are filming Lake Superior and the Chequamegon Bay area “to help describe our area and who we are with our host families,” Erickson said. “A big byproduct of this, hopefully, is to develop a stewardship in students. These two lakes — Superior, the world’s largest by surface area, and Baikal, the world’s largest by volume — hold approximately 30 percent of the world’s available fresh water. This program will help students and teachers become global ambassadors for cultural understanding. It will also help us gain a deeper appreciation for our world’s fresh water and develop in us a sense of stewardship for this natural resource in our area.”
The students going on the trip include Ellie and Emily Hoopman, Isaac Shrider, Shala Basina, Kaytie Hintz-Knopf, Stormey Charette, Eve Smith and Oakley Doering. The adults are Erickson, his wife Lorie Erickson (an early childhood special education teacher), Doering, Karen Grieve (the elementary/middle school counselor), Debbie Knopf (school board member and Kaytie’s mom), and Gephart.
If anyone is interested in assisting financially or providing other forms of assistance please contact Erickson at 715-779-3151 or email@example.com.
Hope McLeod can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.