Phoebe McGuire was sitting in senior study hall during a 90-minute
free period last November, when the Evergreen High student became restless.
McGuire felt disconnected. Some fellow students
were playing a "Guitar Hero" video game. And the "immature"
conversations of teenage boys seemed pointless.
Watching a ping-pong ball bounce back and forth
between two students at a game table proved the last straw.
"Wow, my life is being wasted," she
told her mother when she got home.
A year earlier, her mother, Nancy, had researched
a program for teenage girls called the Traveling School, which was founded
by a Montana educator who spent her childhood in Sphinx Park near Pine.
It offers a semester-long program for young
women, ages 15 to 18, who want to enhance their traditional educations
with an overseas adventure. Students earn full high school academic
credit for courses in math, history, science, language arts, foreign
language, PE, and global studies while also learning about the environment
and the cultures of faraway lands.
The15-week programs offer travels to such destinations
as Africa, South America, Nepal, Mexico and New Zealand. The classes
top out at 16 students.
When Nancy first researched the program, in
Phoebe's junior year, the family couldn't afford the tuition. But a
fortunate turn of events provided some unexpected cash.
"You should apply," Nancy told Phoebe
"No! No way! Like, that's so cool!"
On May 19, before the student body at Evergreen
High School, Phoebe reflected on the chain of events which followed
that epiphany in senior study hall. She had just returned May 15 from
South America with unforgettable, life-changing stories to share.
"Four months ago I was different in a lot
of ways," she told the audience. "I grew more than ever over
the past three and a half months."
Through a photo presentation, she expounded
on the details of her trip, which offered the "world as classroom."
Fourteen girls and four teachers traveled on
eight planes, 18 buses, three boats and one train during their journey
through three countries. They stayed at 18 hostiles, on one boat, at
one hotel and one hacienda. They spent 11 nights in tents and a week
with two different native families. One family's home had only two rooms.
Phoebe, two friends and one teacher slept on the floor of one room,
and the family of six slept in the other.
The girls were squeamish, but hid it, when prized
guinea pigs that scurried about the family's kitchen were killed, cooked,
and offered to them as a delicacy.
The girls grew strong traipsing about the countryside
with 50-pound packs on their backs. They toured museums, hiked a glacier,
climbed the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and were churned in boats over
whitewater rapids through rainforests.
"It was so cool to look around and say,
'What the heck? I'm in the Amazon!' " Phoebe said.
The girls rose at 5:30 each morning to exercise.
They cooked their own food and connected with the world via Internet
cafés. They had daily study periods, did research, wrote term
papers, had poetry recitals, learned Spanish and wrote in personal journals.
They swam with dolphins and, one day, unexpectedly,
with hammerhead sharks.
The Galapagos Islands, once familiar only in
schoolbooks as Darwin's playground, came to life when the teens encountered
a 150-year-old tortoise, a black iguana, red-chested frigate birds and
a blue-footed booby.
"This trip was many, many thingsstressful,
sleep deprivedhowever, this was the
best decision I've ever made," Phoebe said.
Evergreen High counselor Tracy Thompson was
in charge of ensuring that Phoebe's studies met the necessary criteria.
Students who experience unique educational programs can gain from that,
she said. She knows of athletes who have joined training programs abroad,
and even one former EHS student, now in college, who plans to participate
in an adventurous program this fall designed for students entering the
"This was out of the perimeter of typical,
but we would advise kids to do this," Thompson said of Phoebe's
Atypical programs such as the Traveling School
require more than approval from school administrators. They also require
courage on the part of parents.
Pheobe's parents, Nancy and Shannon McGuire,
kept tabs on her travels by means of a blog shared by the other families.
Despite the fearlessness and optimism displayed by many parents at the
onset of the girls' journey, there was great relief upon their return,
"This was not some indulgent tripthere
were physical challenges," Nancy said. "(But) this is not
about me. If it were, I would handcuff her to a bed. It's about Phoebe.
It's about me
Nancy talked with administrators at the Traveling
School numerous times before her daughter met her fellow travelers in
Florida in February. Nancy learned of their qualifications and of other
expeditions the school had orchestrated since it was formed eight years
ago. But she also flew to Miami along with other parents to meet the
teachers, who were in their 20s and 30s. She discovered them to be talented
and competent role models, she said.
"It felt like we had done our job for 17
years, and it was our time to do the handoff," Nancy remembers
of the experience. "This was their job to grow her, for her to
experience things that would never happen in our home, in our schools,
in our town."
Phoebe's younger siblings, Logan and Daisy,
were saddened by her departure. And yet her example was inspirational.
When a teacher in Logan's middle school assigned an essay to identify
a hero, he wrote about his sister Phoebe.
Phoebe has returned in time for graduation at
EHS. But re-entry to life in Evergreen has been surreal, she said Monday.
Her emotions are tied up in both worlds. High school parties are less
enticing than the memories of grateful children forced to use outside
toilets, flushed by water from a bucket, who take nothing in life for
In the fall, she heads to Eckerd College in
St. Petersburg, Fla. She will receive scholarships of $12,000 per year
for four years.
But she has yet to decide a majorbe
that marine science, foreign studies or other optionschoosing
to remain "reflective" a while longer in light of her recent
Phoebe has a connection to watershe
loves sailingand has wanted to work
with dolphins since she "came out of the womb."
But those plans have been confounded by the
inspirational stories of teachers on her trip who once served in the
Peace Corps. And she discovered an attraction to foreign languages while
abroad. She enjoyed learning Spanish and would love to learn more.
Not to mention the case studies she did on hazardous
waste with a traveling companion. She learned of a "trash vortex"
in the Pacific Oceanwhere divergent
currents have trapped vast amounts of floating materials and disposable
plastics (an area the size of Texas), killing marine life.
Those studies expanded her world view, and drove
home the realization that mankind must now undo the damage.
Still, it was a butterfly she observed in the
Amazon, wriggling to escape its cocoon, that brought her adventure full
circle. And she wrote about it in a science paper.
The movement of the insect reminded her of the
ping-pong ball on the day of her epiphany back at EHS.
Both moved to and fro but appeared to go nowhere,
until the butterfly broke through and spread its wings.