News Feature

Web exclusive, December 17, 2012
Students raise $3,500 for Grand Canyon trip—and still counting
Five community meals left before April departure

Fifth-grader Jason Hutchins

Fifth-grader Jason Hutchins gears up, and gets a hand from Principal Corinne Pert.

Photo courtesy of Brooksville Elementary School

by Anne Berleant

With a trip to the Grand Canyon by nine middle school students and their teachers coming up in April, “Team Canyon” meets every Monday after school to learn more about the natural wonder they will experience firsthand and to explore their personal reasons for going.

At the same time, fundraising for the “Coast to Canyon” trip has been ongoing since the school board gave its approval in a close 3-2 vote at its May meeting.

“It was touch and go,” said Laura Johns, the Brooksville middle school teacher who first brought the idea to the board the previous September.

One concern raised by board members was the amount of fundraising needed to finance the trip to allow any and all students to participate without placing a financial burden on families.

The cost per student is around $1,000, Johns said in a recent interview at the school. This covers airfare, park fees and necessary supplies.

“The next step is to think about borrowing gear,” she said. L.L. Bean gave the students one tent in a company “gear giveaway, which was a little underwhelming.” Johns is also applying for grants to help provide the needed equipment.

Fundraisers in the form of community meals—mainly the traditional Saturday school breakfasts—have been ongoing since June, with an Italian dinner held in November. So far, the effort has raised $3,500, Johns said, with four community breakfasts still to come along with a chowder supper in February and a tentatively scheduled yard sale.

If needed, Team Canyon will appeal directly for donations, Johns said. She and most teachers accompanying the students are prepared to pay their own expenses, if necessary, “although that’s not the usual thing.”

“We’re eternally optimistic,” said Johns.

Since eight is the maximum number of people allowed to hike and camp per group, Team Canyon will split into two groups leaving one day apart down the Bright Angel trail, with the second group staying over night at the ranger station near the trailhead. Each group will include two teachers, per school board policy, and one ranger; the group will overnight at an established camping site halfway down the trail.

Johns first brought the idea for the extracurricular field trip to the school board in September, with the support of principal Corinne Pert.

Pert and Johns traveled to Arizona in April, during school vacation week, to see first hand Bright Angel, the south rim trail students will hike down. Pert presented an informational slide show from their trip to the board before members voted. Pert and Johns also met with park rangers to “sell them on the idea” of issuing a federal permit for the students to camp overnight, sidestepping the usual lottery system for visitors, Johns said, so they could plan further ahead.

Pert, Johns and teacher Nada Lepper returned to the Grand Canyon in June, in 120 degree weather, to hike the trail and solidify the educational aspect with the rangers—and establish the background for federal permits—camping in the same site the students will, come April, when the weather is cooler.

“We proved to ourselves it’s very doable. Even in that heat, these three old ladies were able to do it,” Johns said.

While more students opted not to join the “Coast to Canyon” trip than did—14 will stay behind for the nine that are going—that doesn’t mean they aren’t helping their schoolmates’ efforts.

“There are some distinct kids who are helping [with fundraising] just out of the goodness of their hearts and because they like to participate,” said Johns. “And the early morning [breakfast] crew continues to rally. Five a.m., they’re there. It goes like clockwork.”

Johns said students gave varied reasons for not joining the trip. Some “are just not interested in camping,” she said. “Some don’t want to use Port O Potties—it’s as simple as that.”

The nine students, accompanied by teachers Johns, Lepper, Ned Devine and David Davis leave on Wednesday, April 17, and will return on April 23, with students missing two days of school. (Johns said the group has to wait until April 17 because seasonal park employees start a week earlier and rangers need time to train them.)

Principal Pert “will probably go and stay at the top,” Johns said.

The campsite is already reserved, and the group is getting tickets, Johns said.

For more information, and to view a slide show of the June visit to the Canyon by Pert, Lepper and Johns, visit

An "Italian Supper"

An “Italian Supper” was the latest fundraiser for the “Coast to Canyon” trip. From left, front row, Emma Weed, Seth Welch, Jason Hutchinson and Jasmine; back row, Zack Welch, Sam Hutchinson, Zephyr Martin, Lily Gray, Libby Weed and Mike Smith. Students who opted not to go are still helping with fundraising.

Photo courtesy of Brooksville Elementary School
Jason Hutchins, Libby Weed, Zephyr Martin, Emma Weed and Mike Smith

From left, Jason Hutchins, Libby Weed, Zephyr Martin, Emma Weed and Mike Smith get a feel for the gear they’ll use when hiking the Grand Canyon this April.

Photo courtesy of Brooksville Elementary School
Fifth-grader Jason Hutchins

Fifth-grader Jason Hutchins gears up, and gets a hand from Principal Corinne Pert.

Photo courtesy of Brooksville Elementary School