By RJ Walters / For the Jackson Citizen Patriot
Almost 20 fifth- and sixth-grade students boarded a bus at Frost Elementary School on Thursday afternoon — but it wasn’t for a typical ride home.
Instead, they said “au revoir” to friends and family as they headed to France.
Participants in the Back-to-Back exchange program, a Jackson Public Schools initiative run by Frost staff, departed for a three-week stay in Lyon, France, where their exchange-student friends recently returned after a three-week stay in Jackson.
“We talked about going to France as a family and making a trip, but (Spencer) wanted to do this on his own,” said Erica Voegel, the mother of a fifth-grader making his first trip overseas.
Voegel and her husband, Leif, had the typical concerns of any parents sending their youngster abroad, but housing a French exchange student the past three weeks helped ease those fears.
Erica Voegel was a guide when the French students went rock climbing in Ann Arbor, attended a Lansing Lugnuts baseball game and made a visit to Chicago.
The Voegels recalled one memorable incident involving the French students and an American sports star.
“We saw Lebron James walking around Chicago and they didn’t know who he was,” Spencer said. “My mom wanted to take a picture of them with him, but they were too busy playing Guitar Hero.”
Spencer said he is excited to see all of France, but the Eiffel Tower is at the top of his list.
Suzanne Anderson, stepmother to sixth-grade twins making the trip, said “the unknowns of traveling so far away are a bit scary.” But her family has a history of being adventurous, and it’s good to open the kids’ eyes, she said.
“Broadening their worldview and thinking about other people instead of just ourselves is important,” she said, referring to the twins, Madison and Owen.
Teacher Donna Thomas is supervising and leading the trip for the third year in a row.
“My favorite part is seeing the world through the eyes of a child,” Thomas said. “They come back so mature it’s unbelievable.”
The trip costs around $2,000 for each student, some of which was earned through fundraisers throughout the last year.