The Guatemala trip for the Junior High 8th graders was cancelled this past winter due to concerns regarding the Zika virus epidemic in South and Central America. Adelaide Nalley, Sequoyah’s Director of Field Studies, sent out an email on February 8 informing families that the trip would be cancelled. Junior High students intending to go on the trip were re-assigned to one of the two groups that just returned from Oregon, with 7th and 8th grade students in each group.
The Zika virus is an illness that can be spread by mosquitoes. In most people, it causes either no symptoms or a mild, flu-like fever lasting about a week, though evidence suggests that it can cause serious birth defects when contracted by a pregnant woman, including a condition known as microcephaly, in which a baby is born with an unusually small head.
Nalley noted that the decision was made by several teachers and administrators together, including her, “in consultation with doctors and health experts.” The school does know, according to Nalley, that Zika infections have been reported near the areas where the trip would have gone, and further that “because these same areas are not a risk area for many other mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, most lodgings in the area are not equipped with mosquito nets and other preventative measures.”
8th grade students who were planning to go on the Guatemala trip expressed mixed feelings about the cancellation before the Oregon trips departed. 8th grader Zora Skelton was disappointed because the Guatemala trip group had “done so much research and it seemed like so much fun,” but she is also happy that the 7th and 8th graders are now going to be together. Skelton also mentioned that Zika is a more serious illness than the usual health hazards of overseas travel, like food poisoning.
Josh Ticheli, an 8th grade student, was less concerned about the risk. “It’s just a virus that is important enough to get on the news, so Adelaide and the others are scared,” he said. 8th grade student Max Barak said he supports the decision because it was made for “safety reasons.” He continued, “it’s a little upsetting, but a lot of graduates say [the Oregon trip] was the best trip they’ve been on, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Mia Carrillo, 8th grade student, said, “I was really looking forward to it, and I feel like they got our hopes up about the trip.” She conceded, however, that “it makes sense” to cancel the trip because “they don’t know if the virus has long term effects.” She added, “I hope the school figures out a way to have a safe and well-planned-out trip to another country, because I think it [would be] a really great experience.”