Making memories

Debaun leads SEV Spanish students on trip

-Submitted photo
Students from Southeast Valley High School were given dance lessons while on a Spanish class trip through the Dominican Republic recently. Spanish teacher Leah Applebee DeBaun led the trip.

GOWRIE — Students from Leah Applebee DeBaun’s Spanish class at Southeast Valley High School waited for two years to use the skills they learned first-hand and in the Dominican Republic recently.

Eight students and two chaperones joined DeBaun on an eight-day adventure delayed from summer 2020 due to COVID-19. The group made stops in Santo Domingo, Santiago, Puerto Plata and Cabarete, and took a Catamaran cruise during the trip.

Jaguar students Marisa Jepsen, Camille Jepsen, Madelyn VanSickle, Madison Lane, Jordan Johnson, Kyle Johnson, Cecilia Redman and Jubilee Cunigan were joined by Brian Johnson and Katie VanSickle.

“It’s one of the best parts of my job when I see them understand how hard it is in a place so different where the majority of people don’t speak English and they are forced out of their comfort zone and into using their Spanish,” she said. “It helps students gain a lot of confidence back in the U.S. that they can do it.

“I can’t wait to take them again.”

-Submitted photo
Southeast Valley High School students led by Spanish teacher Leah Applebee DeBaun, far right, recently took part in an extended trip through the Dominican Republic. Eight students, DeBaun and two chaperones took part in the trip, making a stop at the Damajagua waterfalls.

DeBaun joined Southeast Valley in 2017 and has been teaching overall since 2009. She graduated from Dordt College. She took a training trip to Costa Rica back in 2019 to prepare for the planned 2020 trip with students.

The group used the educational travel company Explorica and went on their Dominican Republic trip called the “Dominican Republic Highlights” tour.

“We spent the first two days in Santo Domingo, the capital,” DeBaun said. “We walked around the city, got caught in the rain once as we huddled next to the walls of a building. But just as the tour guide told us, it passed in five minutes and was sunny again. That’s how it usually rains in Santo Domingo.

“We got to see a lot of historical buildings and places. One of the favorite parts of the first day was the Kah Kow Chocolate factory where we learned about the whole process of chocolate, starting with the cacao trees.”

VanSickle, who will be a senior in the fall, called the trip “such an amazing opportunity,” adding that it was “cool to be part of this group as it was Southeast Valley’s first Spanish trip.”

-Submitted photo
Southeast Valley High School Spanish teacher Leah Applebee DeBaun, second from left in the back row, and eight students donated soccer balls to kids in the Dominican Republic during their trip there recently.

“We did so many things that I will probably never get to experience again,” she said. “This trip was extremely beneficial for me and my fellow students because we were able to experience a culture that we aren’t around every day. Being around a whole new culture helped us see how different things are.

“It was also fun to be able to make out some Spanish words while having a conversation with people there. If you ever get the opportunity to take a trip like this, I would recommend it 100 percent. I made memories that will last a lifetime.”

From there, they went to Santiago and stopped at a local soccer field to donate balls to kids in need.

“They surprised us with some of the kids who play, and we played some soccer with them,” DeBaun said. “We also passed the spot where the dictator Trujillo was assassinated in 1061. We made a stop at the Pomier caves, which have ancient cave paintings called ‘pictographs’ that are up to 1,500 years old, big spiders, thousands of bats and one boa that we were lucky enough to see.

“On the fourth day, we drove to Puerto Plata and on the way stopped at an amazing spot in La Isabela where Christopher Columbus built his first village on his second voyage to the Americas.”

A sky tram tour in Puerta Plate allowed for breathtaking views, while they also took part in a zip line and took a dance class in Cabarete.

“We got to see kite surfing in Cabarete,” DeBaun said. “Apparently, it is one of the top places to do this and we saw hundreds of people doing it on a windy day to practice for competitions.”

DeBaun said that students will be voting in the fall on where they want to go for the next trip in 2024.


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