Immersive travel opportunities link students with the world


WESTSHORE – Adventure time: Eight Avon Lake students headed to the exotic and wildlife wonderland island country of Bonaire, and 14 area students headed to Kenya this summer with Westlake teachers Julie Milkie and Daniel Grigson’s The Sprout Experience immersive travel project.

Both trips were designed to expand the horizons of the students, as well as teach them about nature and promote immersive cultural experiences.

For the program called Dive Bonaire, students ages 14-18 earned their scuba certification and completed a program with the Coral Restoration Project. The focus of the program was scuba and coral conservation. Bonaire, an island municipality of the Netherlands, lies off Venezuela’s coast in the southern Caribbean. Its reef-lined coast is protected by Bonaire National Marine Park. Beyond its rich marine life, the island shelters lizards, donkeys and birds within its immense Washington Slagbaai National Park, marked by beaches, lagoons, caverns and desert-like hills.

For Expedition Kenya, students spent two weeks living and working with the Masai tribe to learn about their culture and conservation research and efforts.

A big part of Sprout’s mission is to empower young people to think differently about their futures, as well as to gain personal confidence.

Avon High School student Raeley Maxwell went on a Sprout trip to the Galapagos Islands last summer. Returning just a few weeks ago, this year she headed to Bonaire. She and the rest of the group focused on scuba, but also walked around downtown, through the national park and to a donkey sanctuary.

“I want to be successful enough to be able to go back there one day,” said Maxwell.

Kate Balthaser, an Avon Lake High School student, also traveled to Bonaire, and for her, the most memorable part of the trip was cliff jumping.

“The first day I was scared to jump off of the dock at night, and on the last day I jumped off a 30-foot cliff into the ocean,” she said. “We all cheered each other on, and eventually all of us made the big leap off the cliff! This experience prepared me for my future by demonstrating that it is good to challenge yourself and step outside your comfort zone every once and a while. Swimming with sea turtles was amazing, too! There is never a dull moment while scuba diving.”

Sprout also offers immersive programs locally (like Sprout Kitchen, which gives students an inside view into restaurants) and within the United  States.

For the Snake Road adventure, which still has slots open, students travel to the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois, near the Mississippi River, where they observe and learn about reptiles and amphibians.

“We have two or three kids that I know of that are going into conservation (in college) because of these programs,” said Milkie, who always loves seeing how quickly kids from different backgrounds become comfortable with one another and just act like kids.

Sprout hopes to offer scholarships in the future. Nordson Corp. in Westlake did provide $7,500 scholarship funds recently. Though, as Ohio law stands now, a for-profit company cannot have a nonprofit branch. Milkie says she’s following changes to this rule closely.

For now, she can’t say enough good things about watching relationships blossom and kids’ eyes opening to the world around them and all of its possibilities. “I love the family we’ve built together and how the kids take care of each other,” she said.

For more information on upcoming programs, visit

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