- Nexus Global Studies
My first day with the Nexus Global Studies program was Monday, March 31, 2014. The end of that first week, on April 4, my first travel program departed for New York City. Granted, the majority of the arrangements were in place prior to my arrival, but between forms that needed to be gathered, reservations that needed to be confirmed, and last minute reminders that needed to be shared with families, it was certainly a hectic week.
Such is life in the Nexus Center for Global Studies at Cape Henry Collegiate. In any given year, approximately 500 students travel on nearly 30 domestic and international adventures. We offer programs across all three divisions, ranging from one-day experiences to two-and-a-half-week journeys on the far side of the globe. Between passports, visas and other bits of paperwork, over 3,000 forms fly across my desk in any given year. The payoff is tremendous—we see the smiles and hear the stories from students who travel on life-changing experiential education programs. But it is certainly a fast and furious occupation.
And then one day, almost without warning, it wasn’t. For the first time in over 15 years, Nexus Global Studies was grounded thanks to a global pandemic. What started off as a cancellation of our spring 2020 travel programs grew to a nearly 15-month travel drought, resulting in no Nexus programming for our students and staff in the summer of 2020, and throughout most of the 2020-2021 school year.
“No one in global education has ever seen anything like this,” says Mr. William Fluharty, Director of the Nexus Center for Global Studies. “Everyone spent the first two weeks of the pandemic trying to get providers and travel agents on the phone, seeing what they could cancel, what they could reschedule, and what money they could get back.
“Once the dust settled, we all shifted our focus to how to move forward, and just how long this would last.”
In the Nexus offices, we continued to plan, holding out hope that something may be able to take off. But in most cases, just around the corner crept another travel advisory, another spiking infection rate, or another closed border.
Thankfully, in the early weeks of 2021, some light shimmered at the end of a long COVID tunnel. We received word from our colleagues in French Polynesia that they may be opening their borders exclusively to United States citizens in May 2021. Shortly after that, additional good news—our colleagues in Idaho were still able to host us in August for our Middle School whitewater rafting program. At last, some forward momentum. Two travel programs is a far cry from 30, but we would take it.
So, how do you shuffle 15 seniors and 22 Middle School students to various points across the globe in the middle of a pandemic? Very, very methodically.
Cape Henry Collegiate was one of a small number of independent schools that traveled in the summer of 2021, either internationally or domestically. The decision to move forward with Nexus programs was one made over a number of months, following multiple conversations with not only administrators and staff, but also families and students. “From the beginning the information disseminated was clear,” says Libby Dorough and Alex Scott, parents of Benjamin Scott '21. “Even with the changing scenarios, it remained clear and calm.”
In order to travel, Middle School students were required to either be vaccinated or produce a negative COVID test prior to the departure of the Idaho program. For seniors, the French Polynesian government required not only proof of vaccination, but also multiple negative COVID tests and additional documentation. “It meant a lot because it was difficult to get into the country,” says Aiden Winfield '21. “Once in, we were able to have a Nexus experience just like the trips pre-COVID.”
“Even with COVID protocols, Nexus was able to give us once-in-a-lifetime experiences, from learning about Tahitian culture to snorkeling and scuba diving with beautiful underwater animals,” adds Isabel Schleifer '21. “I was so grateful for this opportunity, and it was a great way to end my Senior Year!”
Many families saw the Nexus travel protocols regarding masking, testing, and vaccinations as a natural extension of the School’s policies that were put in place for the 2020-2021 academic year. “CHC did a tremendous job navigating us through the school year during the pandemic so we had complete faith in the Nexus program’s ability to safely execute the Idaho trip,” says Jill Salomonsky, mother of Middle School traveler, Max. “Once reaching their destination, these kids had an experience of a lifetime in the most incredible natural setting, free from screens and the worries of the world.”
Laura Larkin, mother of Middle School traveler AJ Larkin, adds, “While obviously concerned with the continually changing COVID environment, notably the increase in cases over the past few weeks, we were extremely comfortable that CHC would make sound decisions regarding the propriety of the trip.”
For the Class of 2021, having lost so much of a year traditionally filled with pomp and circumstance, the annual Nexus Senior Trip was a glimmer of normalcy in an abnormal year. “The trip to French Polynesia was the culmination of Aiden’s 13 years at Cape Henry,” shares Aiden’s mother, Kristy Winfield '95. “He had been looking forward to going on the Senior Trip throughout his high school years as a Dolphin, and honestly, with COVID we thought that might be one opportunity he would not be able to take advantage of.”
Experiential education will certainly come with its own set of challenges in the foreseeable future. For Cape Henry Collegiate, the undertaking is worthwhile due to the innumerable benefits for our students, faculty, and staff. “I am immensely proud of our Nexus program and our chaperones who brought international and domestic travel back to Cape Henry,” says Dr. Chris Garran, Head of School. “With the pandemic, travel programs have been suspended at most schools. Cape Henry led the way back with our seniors traveling to French Polynesia and our Middle School students rafting in Idaho.
“We prioritized safety and created amazing experiences for our kids. This leadership in the return to travel provides evidence of how much we value experiential education and how seriously we take our mission to create globally aware citizens.”
Hopefully, in a time not too far from now, we will return to our pre-pandemic travel numbers. Hopefully, in a time not too far from now, my desk will once again be a flurry of passports, visas, and other paperwork. But for now, those of us in the Nexus Center for Global Studies will do what we always have, and always will: foster awareness in the global community through programs that stretch students intellectually and emotionally.
“Every day we were immersed in the culture of French Polynesia and had the opportunity to eat great food, meet wonderful people, and even participate in cultural events like dances and feasts,” reflects Benjamin Scott '21. “I loved every part of the trip, from playing ukulele in the sunset with locals to visiting the agricultural school and meeting the students.
“I could not have asked for anything more. It was truly one of the best experiences of my life.”