Cheers, applause and a few happy screams filled the air as a chartered bus containing 43 Shenendehowa high school students who had a volcano-extended stay in Paris arrived on campus Monday night.
“It’s really, really exciting,” said junior Madison Derrick after hugging her parents, Terrie and Steven Derrick, and her younger brother, Parker. The bus arrived at 8:40 p.m.
“It’s been pretty rough going,” said Steve Derrick. “This is the longest she has been away from home.”
“Mom’s been pretty stressed out having her gone,” Steve Derrick said about his wife.
Senior Loren Clark and junior Jaclyn Clark, sisters, were thrilled to be home and back with their parents.
“We planned on two weeks and stayed a month,” said Loren Clark. “It was a really good experience.”
The ninth, 11th and 12th grade students and six teacher-chaperones left for a student exchange program in France on April 2. They were scheduled to be back home April 16 but the Icelandic volcano eruption on April 14 shut down air travel and forced them to stay in Paris until early Monday morning.
The students left on a bus to an airport near Paris at 3 a.m. French time. They flew to Newark International Airport in two groups and boarded an Upstate Transit bus to the Shenendehowa East High School campus. The students said they had been awake more than 24 hours.
“It’s really been a long day,” Loren Clark said.
Balloons and “welcome back” signs were waved by parents and friends as the bus pulled in with light rain coming down.
High school principal Donald Flynt was present to greet his students.
“The teachers and kids did a great job in informing their parents about what was going on [during the extended stay],” Flynt said.
“The parents have been very, very understanding, patient and cooperative,” Flynt said.
Larry Brodsky said he couldn’t wait to see his daughter, Sarah, a junior.
He said one of the teachers created a special Internet blog for parents and friends of the students in France. He said the blog told about what the students were doing each day and was filled with photos of smiling faces.
Patty Brodsky, Sarah’s mother, said their daughter e-mailed them regularly and called now and them.
Ashley Gagnon, a junior waiting for her close friend, Emily Lamm, to arrive on the bus, said Emily kept her friends posted on her activities via Facebook.
“It feels like they have been gone for a month,” said junior Caitlyn D’Agati, who was also waiting for Emily Lamm and carrying a “Welcome Back” poster.
The students stayed with host families in the town of Montrouge just outside Paris for two weeks but then had to find other accommodations for the final week-plus.
The junior and senior high school students were able to stay in the dorms of a sports complex for just $10 per night. The ninth graders stayed at a hotel at a cost of $375 per week each, according to parents.
The school district loaned money to the students who needed it, while some parents were able to put additional money into debit cards the students used to pay for food and lodging.
Mike Looney of Clifton Park was blowing up balloons and setting up a large “Welcome Back” sign in front of the high school prior to the arrival of the bus.
“The parents miss their kids, and I miss my wife,” Looney said. His wife is Karen Bonventre, a high school social studies teacher who helped coordinate the trip and chaperone the students along fellow teacher, Carla Gordon.
Madison Clark said the students ate at McDonald’s and also enjoyed crepes at French cafes. She said she had a strong desire for barbecue.
“I love barbecue sauce,” Madison said. “They don’t have it there.”
The students will be allowed to rest at home today and will return to school Wednesday for classes and some special help to catch up with the work they have missed.