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ESJH students return from Europe; teacher planning 2020 Peru trip

LAPLACE — Five East St. John High School students experienced the beauty of the Notre Dame Cathedral only two days before 800 years of history was consumed by ravenous fire.

The visit was part of an educational spring break tour of Paris, Milan, Florence and Rome, organized by teacher Derron Cook to expand local students’ worldviews.

“We have students who, for the first time, have gotten their passports,” Cook said. “Students, for the first time, have gotten on planes. We’re talking about possibility.”

Students equipped with passports have the world at their fingertips and future opportunities stretching beyond St. John the Baptist Parish, according to Cook.

“What’s in front of you might just be an illusion of what you think life is,” Cook said. “Life is hard; I cannot overcome certain things. That is in your near sight, but you can overlook it if you see everything you can accomplish by imagining or seeing what’s possible.”

East St. John students and chaperones hold out their passports.

Senior Leonca Batiste was terrified and clinging to the seat at the start of her first plane ride this month. By the time she flew back to the United States, she felt like a flying pro.

Leonca enjoyed Paris but truly fell in love with the Italian cities. Between hanging with a street artist, enjoying gelato and seeing the Pantheon and Leaning Tower of Pisa, she lived in the moment and hardly noticed when her phone battery died.

Even foods like pizza tasted different in Europe without the preservatives accustomed to in America, according to Leonca.

The highlight of Rome was visiting the Trevi Fountain, a sight that brought tears to Leonca’s eyes. She tossed three coins into the fountain from her right hand over her left shoulder in accordance with a legend to ensure she returns to Rome, falls in love and marries a Roman man.

Logan Mitchell, Leonca Batiste and Rosa Singleton enjoy a moment in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

“I saw things I’ve looked at on a small screen, and I was so grateful to see them in real life,” Leonca said. “It opened my soul to different things and a worldwide future. I’m overjoyed to have gone out of the country and to be able to say I’ve crossed many things off my bucket list.”

Senior Rosa Singleton enjoyed meeting new friends within a group of 33 students from Boston who joined in on the tour.

One of the Boston guests even invited the East St. John High students to her upcoming birthday party, and there are plans for a New Orleans meet-up in the future.

Noah Williams, Joel Tumblin, and Derron Cook have fun at the Leaning Tower of Pisa on a recent trip.

“What made me really want to go on the trip is that most people really don’t get to meet new people,” Rosa said. “We know everybody in our parish, so it was good to meet new people on that trip and have more friends to communicate with.”

Rosa found Milan and Florence the most scenic destinations, and she’s taken to saying the Italian phrase “Ciao Ciao” when telling people goodbye.

Students Noah Williams, Joel Tumblin and Logan Mitchell also took the trip.

Leonca Batiste and Rosa Singleton stop at the Roman Coliseum.

Noah was intrigued by “drastically different” food, language and style of dress, which he described as “looser” than what’s typical in the United States.

In the months leading up to the trip, Noah and the other students participated in a series of fundraising efforts that included food sales, a school dance and private donations.

“We’re very thankful to everyone who went to their pockets and were able to bless us with this trip,” Noah said. “We’ve learned so much, and we are willing to give back what we’ve learned to future generations.”

Fundraising taught students to set and work toward goals, according to Cook. During the journey, students also learned to document their experiences through digital media.

Students peered into Notre Dame Cathedral and saw this scene at Mass only two days before the structure caught fire.

Photos and videos from the trip will be shown in an upcoming exhibition through Cook’s Motionphics in Action nonprofit.

Cook’s future plans include passport days at East St. John High and a 2020 trip to Peru open to students from surrounding schools.

For more information on the Peru trip, call Cook at 912-604-6348.