Into the Wild

Prepping Valentine’s juniors and seniors for the big school trip.
Photograph by Sterry Butcher

It takes two minutes to drive from one end of Valentine to the other, past the library, with its concrete lions, the dentist’s office, the church, and the rows of small houses—some occupied, others abandoned. This is ranching country, broad and distant.

Valentine, population 134, is not a wealthy community, and it has one of the smallest school districts in Texas. Last year, 46 students were enrolled in pre-K through twelfth grade. On a mid-May morning, a few days before graduation, the six members of the Travel Class assembled in the school auditorium. With them were Maralea Miller, who works in the school district’s tax office, and her husband, Albert, a rancher and former school board member. Maralea passed out papers.

This is what two years of hard work comes down to,” she told the class’s two juniors and four seniors. “The itinerary is here.” 

Every other year, Valentine sends its upperclassmen on a grand trip to a faraway place. Raising the money for this takes every bit of two years. The 2012 destination: Guanacaste, Costa Rica. 

The six kids, eyes bright like dimes, read the itineraries without speaking. Maralea let the information soak in. As a Travel Class sponsor, Maralea had overseen all the planning and would chaperone the trip along with Albert. This would be her seventh time abroad with a class, and she prepped her students for what to expect. She doled out luggage tags, reviewed decorum (sundresses, yes; pocketknives, no), and explained that she’d carry copies of everyone’s passport in her backpack. 

Nicole and Adriana have never flown before—we’ll partner them with someone who’s flown,” she said.

When the stewards tell you about using the seat for a flotation device, pay attention, but don’t freak out,” said Albert. 

I think it’ll be okay,” said

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