Arhan Sarma (’22) said beyond being just a travel experience, the Alternatives program is a “fantastic opportunity to spend time with other kids in your grade and pursue a passion.”
According to an email Director of Student Life James Perry sent out to the High School, students — those not enrolled in choir, orchestra or band — were assigned to one of the 23 Alternative trips taking place in the U.K. March 28 to 31.
Perry said the school introduced the Alternatives program in 1978. Alternatives trips occurred annually until 2020, when COVID-19 government regulations moved the U.K. into a lockdown, suspending the opportunity for students to travel.
Classes were shortened and ended at noon Jan. 13 and 14 for Alternatives groups to spend the afternoon together. Groups met to plan for March as well as engage in activities surrounding their trips’ purpose.
Sarma said when he first moved to the school, he was pleasantly surprised to learn he had the opportunity to explore different parts of the world; before moving to ASL, he had never traveled far for school trips. As a Grade 9 student, Sarma flew to Berlin for the “Immigration and Social Justice” Alternative.
“When I came to London, I was told that they would be sending the entire grade in individualized groups across Europe,” he said. “And that was a huge opportunity for me, I’d never heard of something like this before.”
Head Librarian Karen Field, who is chaperoning the “Sailing the Solent” Alternative, said Alternatives are a good opportunity for students to visit places to which they would not otherwise have traveled.
“We kind of wanted to try to come with experiences that you can just go on vacation with your parents and have,” she said. “Not that you can’t do this, but [students] will never be with other students sailing.”
Ava Porter (’23), who is enrolled in the “Graffiti: Vandalism or Art?” Alternatives trip taking place in Bristol, said her group watched a documentary on renowned Artist Banksy Jan. 13. Then, she said her group ventured out to Covent Garden for an art exhibition on Banksy Jan. 14.
Porter said she enjoyed spending time with her individual group and exploring London without stringent COVID-19 restrictions.
“It was really nice to be out in London again with my Alternative because even in freshman year, I didn’t really go out on school trips or anything,” she said.” “All of the trips that I was supposed to do were going to be at the end of the year, except that never happened.”
According to Evelyn Snizek (’23), who is a part of the “Sailing the Solent” Alternatives trip, she will be sailing on a 72-foot boat across the Solent with her group in March. She said they went to the Westminster Boating Base to learn about tides as well as how to assemble a boat Jan. 13. The following day, they spent time in the Make, Innovate, Learn Lab learning about buoyancy and floating devices.
Field said it is important that students have the opportunity to follow their passions in a setting other than the classroom.
“I like that depending on your interest, I think you could find something that you like,” she said. “Some students want a real outdoor, hands-on experience and that’s not what other students want. So I think being able to pick a little bit and have these really varied experiences is important.”
Likewise, Porter said she is looking forward to traveling outside of London with other students who share her passion for art.
“I’m looking forward to experiencing what it’s like to go on an overnight trip with people who all signed up to go on this fun Alternative,” she said. “It’d be kind of fun to have this cool experience in another city where we’re going, exploring art, learning a bit more and doing it in an environment where I feel like I can trust people too.”
In addition, Sarma said the trips are a great way to connect with other students and foster new relationships.
“You don’t go with your friends in your grade, so you end up spending a lot of time with other kids you wouldn’t necessarily cross paths with otherwise,” he said. “And the second part of alternatives is learning in a more alternative way and experiencing something new and exciting.”
Porter said although she is confident the Alternative trips will take place, she is worried about the possibility of COVID-19 resurfacing and new government restrictions arising.
“COVID-19 is always going to be a problem this year,” she said. “We’ll be able to do the trips but it’s always kind of an unconscious spot in the back of my head of like, ‘Well, there’s always a chance that it’s just going to be freshman year again and it’s going to all come crashing back.’”