Paula Saillard realizes she’s not teaching French in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, any more.
Back then, Saillard–who was a language teacher at Cherry Hill High School East for 26 years–knew that she could take her students to Paris every other year. Most students’ families could afford the trip, though a few babysat and did odd jobs to help pay for their tickets.
But at Camden’s Woodrow Wilson High School, where Saillard, 55, landed last April to satisfy what she describes as “an internal longing” to teach in that city, financing the field trip for 20 students in one of the poorest communities in America means having to raise $40,000—none of which her students’ families have.
French student Janneiry Martinez, 17, views the trip as a chance “for a new experience. All I’ve been seeing is the same city all my life.” Her parents, she said, are as excited by the possibility as she is. “They came here from Puerto Rico,” she said, “and they never got to go anywhere, so they want me to go.”
Other participants said their families feel the same, although Minh Le, 16, admitted that his Vietnamese-born parents are a little apprehensive. “It’s a refugee thing,” he sai. “They’re scared because of the recent Donald Trump thing and that people who travel may not be allowed back!”
So determined is Saillard that she’s sent out “hundreds of e-mails,” to sports teams and politicians ranging from U.S. Senator Cory Booker and U.S. Representative Donald Norcoss to Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump soliciting donations for the journey. She reports receiving few responses, although she did get an autographed puck back from the Philadelphia Flyers to auction off for a donation.
For Saillard, who said she “was born to be a teacher” and felt an almost instant connection with her Wilson students when she arrived at the school, the poverty of her pupils makes the trip even more critical.
“It broadens their horizons,” she said. “To get to see for themselves how other people live is a once in a lifetime thing.”
Her enthusiasm has spread to her students. Minh Le loves fashion, and wants to see “how they wear their clothing different than Americans.”
Heaven Boone, 18, who next year will be attending Benedict College (a historically black college in South Carolina) plans to continue taking French, is intrigued by the food. “I heard there’s a lot of cheese down there.”
For 15-year old Alyssa Martin, whose drawing of the Arch of Triumph drew praise from Saillard, it’s about a real-life glimpse of an iconic landmark. “I want to go see the Arc,” she said, “because it’s my favorite thing!”
Saillard has until the beginning of March to raise the money, and though she’s only received a fraction of what she needs at this point, has no intention of giving up.
“It’s been at least 20 years since any Wilson kids went abroad,” she said. “To do this would be such a big win for the kids.”
Minh Le is trying to remain optimistic. “If we lose this opportunity,” he said, “it feels hopeless.”
Salliard has started a GoFundMe page in hopes of raising the money.
Below is a video the Camden City School District produced to support Salliard’s campaign.