Six Newark public high school students are spending spring break in London, an all-expense-paid weeklong trip made possible by the diligence – and the 401(k) funds – of one passionate Newark native.
“No one is talking to children in Newark public schools about travel,” said Madeline Boughton, the trip’s organizer and primary benefactor.
At the age of 31, Boughton has traveled to 21 countries, camped out in the Sahara, and spent two years in Paris earning her Master’s degree. While she credits her parents with instilling a love of travel, she says discussions about studying abroad were nonexistent in high school.
Boughton has since become an outspoken advocate for the inclusion of international travel programs in urban school districts. Her platform has taken her door-to-door, visiting public high schools throughout the city where, she admits, several principals have flat out rebuffed her offers to speak with students.
“Sometimes they tell me no,” Boughton says. “They say we have to focus on graduation, and getting a job, and going to college. It’s not something we have time for.”
But she is hoping – “gambling” may be the better word – that this trip will inspire school leadership to shift their perspective. That is why she has invested $12,000 of her own money to make the trip happen. Without any corporate or philanthropic sponsors, Boughton initially turned to crowdfunding to cover the cost of airfare, hotel fees, and food. But when a two-month Indiegogo campaign only yielded $2,330, she withdrew the rest of the money from her own 401(k).
Madeline Boughton pitches the benefits of a weeklong London trip for Newark high school students in a video posted to Indiegogo. After the $25,000 campaign yielded just $2,300 in donations, Boughton funded the rest of the trip out-of-pocket.
“I was really stressed out and worried because I really didn’t want to cancel the trip, because I didn’t want to let the children down,” she said.
For their part, the students themselves were excited as the trip got underway. “The wait in Newark airport seemed like a couple minutes, it’s amazing how time flies when you’re excited,” blogged Joshua Skillern, a junior at Technology High school, as the trip got underway on March 29. “When we boarded the plane, none of us could keep quiet.”
With the help of an essay contest, Boughton hand-selected Skillern and four other high-achieving Newark high school sophomores last spring. All honors students, the London entourage boasts two Rutgers Future Scholars, an NJIT Upward Bound student, and several athletes.
The itinerary includes touring Wimbledon and attending a Royal Shakespeare Company production. Students will also spend three days at Wroxton College, Fairleigh Dickinson’s satellite location in London, and the site of Boughton’s study abroad experience as an undergraduate. There, they will further explore Anglo-American cultural differences.
“We’ll be giving the kids that are coming over guidance about what it is they are seeing, some of the differences they may encounter, and why those differences are there,” said Dr. Nicholas Baldwin, dean at Wroxton College.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that international travel programs are absent from the curricula of Newark’s traditional public high schools. In a district where school administrators are saddled with addressing grave realities like low test scores and graduation rates, and where there’s been confusion and wrangling over the controversial “One Newark” school district reorganization plan, it’s easy to understand how a weeklong trip overseas could seem extraneous to school administrators, if not downright frivolous.
But in spite of both the steep monetary requirements and competition with more pressing priorities, access to excursions abroad for Newark students could be worth the effort in the long run, offering a global outlook for students who are inheriting an increasingly connected world where unprecedented global competition is a reality.
With this trip under her belt as a proof-of-concept, Boughton says she will seek the funding and support required to take a group of Newark high school students overseas every year.
To read more about Boughton’s endeavors, see pictures from the trip, and read student blog posts, visit TravelingMad.com.
Ayesha K. Faines is a North Jersey-based writer and television journalist. Her non-fiction work explores millennial entrepreneurship, personal development, and the intersection of race and popular culture. A self-proclaimed “afromantic”, she also enjoys writing romantic fiction and poetry. She blogs regularly at www.xoAyesha.com and tweets @ayeshakfaines.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Madeline Boughton invested $23,000 of her own money into the students’ trip. In fact, she invested $12,000.