Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School postpones student travel to China until 2025

PARIS — After Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School accepted an invitation by its sister school in Jinhua, China, for 20 students to travel abroad for a hosted tour of its community and various landmarks this spring, school administrators have postponed the trip until next year.

The invitation was originally presented as an all-expense paid opportunity, but as the expenses were calculated OHCHS Principal Paul Bickford realized the funds allocated for air fare were not enough to cover passage both ways.

Despite efforts to engage with potential sponsors in Oxford Hills, the short opportunity for fundraising proved too much to secure in too little time.

“We are moving the anticipated student trip to China to the spring of 2025,” Bickford told the Advertiser Democrat in an email statement in late April. “We will organize the group this spring and start fundraising efforts this summer and fall. The cost per student is in the range of $4,000, so fundraising will help defray expenses.”

OHCHS’ exchange program with Zhejiang Normal University Middle School began in 2002, with teachers from China residing in Oxford Hills to teach Mandarin classes to high school students.

The program came to a halt during the pandemic, but officials from Jinhua reopened a dialogue this winter with Bickford and educator Craig Blanchard, who has been its lead coordinator since its inception.

“We look forward to the opportunity to visit our sister school in Jinhua, China next year and also to visit some historical sites,” Bickford said.

When the proposal came before SAD 17’s school board in February some directors were leery of sponsoring student travel to a foreign country with strained relations with the United States, especially in light of U.S. State Department-issued travel advisories to mainland China.

However, School Board Vice-Chair Kitty Winship of Waterford urged her colleagues to support the program. Winship was one of its inaugural participants in 2002 when she was a high school student.

“Visiting China was life-changing for me,” she said ahead of voting to approve the trip Feb. 5. “For 20 students to receive an all-expenses-paid invitation is the opportunity of a lifetime.”

The invitation extended in February would have been at no cost to students. Bickford did not say if Zhejiang Normal University Middle School will cover any expenses for the rescheduled trip next year.

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