Students explore the country through summer programs

Every summer, high school students at Elkhart Community Schools have a unique opportunity to study through breathtaking travel opportunities with courses in Earth Science (Colorado), Marine Biology (East Coast), and U.S. History (Washington, DC).

Each of the summer field experience courses begins with classroom instruction and local preparation, helping the students grow in the subject matter and prepare for the 14-day adventure ahead.

“Most of the students who participate are going into ninth grade and may not have traveled much, not hiked in the mountains, or stayed away from home for two weeks with 20 plus other students,” said Ed Hibshman, Elkhart Memorial teacher, who coordinates the Earth Science Colorado trip. “It’s a great opportunity for them to see and explore environments and wild life they’ve never seen before and to build awareness of the different cultures of people who live in the areas.”

Students on the Earth Science Colorado trip experience five days in San Juan Mountains, two days in the Mesa Verde National Park, white water rafting on the Colorado River, and visits to places like the Indian Cliff Dwellings, the Great Sand Dunes, Air Force Academy, and the Olympic Training Center. The trip has been in existence since 1977 with roughly 90 trips taken and more than 2,300 students participating. The Earth Science Colorado trip has become so popular with students that the district now offers multiple two-week long trips during the summer. Hibshman’s first trip as a teacher was in 1988.

“We’ve had to make alternative plans on at least seven of the trips I’ve taught on because of poor weather or forest fires,” said Hibshman. “These trips all stand out because they were unique: staying in the badlands of Utah, the first group ever from Elkhart to hike Crystal Mountain (13,000+ ft) just outside Silverton, and discovering Blue Lakes State Park outside of Ouray and hiking my first 14,000+ ft mountain with students: Mt. Sneffles. Since our first trip to Blue Lakes 15 years ago, it is now part of every trip each year. The lakes near each mountain are formed from snow melt, are crystal clear, and have a large number of visible trout in each lake. Summiting Mt. Elbert for the first time was amazing. It is the highest mountain in Colorado (14,433 feet) and the second highest in the lower 48 states. From base camp to the top rises in elevation 5,000 + feet, is 9 miles round trip, and takes 5 to 8 hours. The view from the highest point in Colorado is breathtaking!”

“My favorite part of the trip was white water rafting,” said Rachel Terrell, Elkhart Memorial freshman, who participated in the summer 2018 trip. “It was really fun because we jumped from boat to boat and got in the water with everyone on the hot day to cool off. The biggest take away from my trip was the sand dunes. This part of the trip was a challenge that made me feel successful and strong. Being able to cheer on others as they came up to the peak was rewarding and the view from the top was breathtaking.”

“My favorite part of the trip was meeting new people,” said Matthew Dickerson, Elkhart Memorial freshman, who participated in the summer 2018 trip. “I went into the trip not knowing anyone on the bus except my friends. By the time the trip was over, I met a lot of new people who I still talk to. I learned that I like to be outdoors. The trip impacted my life because now I have more friends, a new Love of Colorado, and I like to travel to places out there. It was a great trip that many people should go on. It’s a once in a life time opportunity.”

“When I was on this trip, I learned that being outgoing was more fun than staying with one person the whole time,” said Terrell. “I learned that I needed to step up and become a leader at times, not only to help myself but to also help my entire group. The trip impacted my life by helping me become a leader and learn how to work with others, I was shown the importance of teamwork and patience also how to help others through challenges that might not be so difficult for me.”

“Without a doubt, this trip is one of the most memorable events a student can do during their educational career in Elkhart,” said Hibshman. “Many, many students have either recreated the trip with friends or family. More students than I can count have told me as adults, the trip is the most memorable event of their high school career.”

Like the Earth Science Colorado course, the Marine Biology course includes classroom instruction, local preparation, and 14 days of travel.

The Marine Biology program started in 2000 and was inspired by a two-week course called “Introduction to Whales, Porpoises, and Seals” that Elkhart Memorial teacher Heidi Krusenklaus had taken at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor. As part of the course, Krusenklaus had to create a lesson plan. Krusenklaus took the assignment to the next level and created a hands-on summer course for Elkhart students devoted to Marine Biology.

Students who participate in the Marine Biology program spend 14 days traveling together, experiencing nature boat cruises, whale watching, handling ocean organisms (like lobsters and sea cucumbers), kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding, and visiting places like Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island Biological, as well as cities like Boston, Bar Harbor, and Plymouth.

Their time together also includes the long drive on a school bus and tent camping, which ultimately forms friendships and creates life-long memories for students. “I have seen strong friendships come out of this program for students and me,” said Krusenklaus. “I started to see the real impact the trip was having when I started to get feedback from alumni.” Krusenklaus has heard from alumni who have recreated the trip with their own personal trips (and a honeymoon!), and has also seen the influence of the trip on personal events like weddings.

“One of our 2007 alumni, Kaitlyn (Robison) Smale, invited me to her wedding in 2015,” said Krusenklaus. “Part of the maid of honor’s speech included the Marine Biology trip and the experience they’d had together. I could also see hints of the program throughout the evening.”

According to Smale, the Marine Biology trip was one of the best experiences of her high school career. “Not only did we get to see parts of the country that many adults are never lucky enough to see, we got to create lifelong memories as well,” said Smale. “I will never forget kayaking in the Atlantic Ocean and getting washed up on the rocky shore when my partner and I failed to keep up with the rest of the group. It was such a miserable, but funny, time that we still look back on and laugh about to this day!”

Students who participate in the U.S. History trip explore our nation’s capital and historical landmarks, as they learn about U.S. History. The U.S. History trip includes visits to the White House, Washington Monument, Capitol Building, Vietnam Memorial, World War II Memorial, Lincoln Monument, Arlington Cemetery, Holocaust Museum, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, JFK/RFK Burial Site, and a DC at Dark Tour.

“This experience gave us the ability to feel the emotions that are eminent at each place we visited,” said Elkhart Memorial senior Issabella Williams, who participated last year. “Between Arlington and the Holocaust Museum, I felt such emotions that we couldn’t experience in the classroom. You can teach a student about an event or place so many times, but you can’t teach us how to feel.”

Elkhart Memorial senior Micah Baker agrees. “Going to Washington D.C. was a trip unlike any other. The trip was not only educational, but it opened another gateway of learning through emotion. While exploring the city and all the monuments, I was able to experience history in a new way. By seeing the memorials, I was able to dig deeper into the history on a personal level and develop new emotions for the history that shaped our country into the country we are today. By seeing these things in person, everything we’ve learned in the classroom became more realistic and meaningful.”

Each of the programs offers credit toward graduation, and all have different dates, different costs, and different prerequisites.

The Marine Biology and U.S. History programs are open to ECS students in incoming grades 10-12 (students in the Marine Biology program must have passed their grade 9 science course); for the Earth Science Colorado program, students in incoming grades 9-12 are eligible to attend. Students who successfully complete all academic requirements in the Marine Biology or Earth Science program will earn 1 credit toward their diploma; students who successfully complete all academic requirements in the U.S. History program will earn a second semester US History II credit, a Sociology credit, or a “General” Social Studies credit toward graduation. Participants will travel by school bus and stay in tents for the Marine Biology or Earth Science programs; participants will travel via Amtrak train and stay in hotel rooms for the U.S. History program. Costs range from around $600-700 per program.

Parent information nights and sign-ups typically begin in October. Please plan accordingly to ensure there is space available! Email the trip coordinators below for information.

Trip coordinators are:

Marine Biology – Heidi Krusenklaus ( or 574-262-5600)

Earth Science – Ed Hibshman ( or 574-262-5600)

U.S. History – Steve Asbury ( or 574-262-5600)


Elkhart Community Schools believes that each student who has the desire to travel for educational purposes and life experience should have the opportunity to do so. Through donations from individuals and groups throughout the community, financial support may be available to students who qualify. Please contact the trip coordinator for details.

Special thanks to Elliot and Christa Brown from Massachusetts, who have provided funding for Marine Biology scholarships. The Browns are a couple who camps next to the Marine Biology students every year in Bar Harbor, and who are passionate about supporting the program and ECS students. We appreciate their kindness and are proud of our students for demonstrating Elkhart hospitality when they travel.

Special thanks to the Elkhart Education Foundation for their generous support of the Washington, D.C. program. We are thankful for all that EEF does to support our students.