The Pryor Times

Education

April 8, 2014

Student ambassador: Australia or bust

PRYOR, OK — Gentry Blair, a fifth-grade soccer star, artist and math whiz is Australia bound.

Blair, a Roosevelt Elementary School Student, is leaving June 17 for a 15-day student ambassador program in Australia.

“It all started when we got a letter in the mail from People to People,” said Gentry’s mom Erin Blair. “We weren’t sure it was a real thing. But they invited us to a meeting to learn about it.”

Erin said what really sold her on the trip was talking to other parents at a People to People meeting.

“I see these kids giving presentations, they were up in front of everyone and seemed very outgoing and professional. Then their parents come to talk to me,” said Erin. “They said their kids were shy and reserved like Gentry is. So it was very cool to see where they started and where they are now.”

People to People was founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower because he “believed ordinary citizens of different nations could solve their problems and live harmoniously with one another,” according to the website. The organization was founded 50 years ago and now covers seven continents, 40 countries and has 500,000 alumni.

Gentry was one of nine students chosen from northeast Oklahoma, and one of only four that are making the journey.

“We get to go backstage at the Sydney Opera House, go snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef, spend some time in an Australian school so we can see how it is different from ours,” said Gentry Blair, who has never traveled out of the country. “We get to go to the zoo; we get to spend a day with the Australian parliament.”

Gentry said she is required to pack a hat, because school students in Australia aren’t allowed to play outside at recess without one.

“They get to visit Olympic Park where they will swim in the pool and stand on the podium. They get to visit the site of the landing of the first European fleet. They’ll visit Sunshine Coast, a wildlife sanctuary, learn about sea life from a marine biologist and go horseback riding,” said Erin.

“They said we even have the opportunity to eat kangaroo or crocodile, which I can do,” said Gentry Blair.

In addition, the student ambassadors will visit Queensland Dairy Museum, experience bushwalking and learn about Australian farming.

“Because this is an educational trip, they do schedule a lot of behind-the-scenes activities that regular tourists don’t get, like going backstage at Sydney Opera,” said Erin.

Gentry said she’s still learning all she can about Australia, as the farthest she’s been from home is Minnesota.

Student ambassadors can be chosen several ways. Blair was chosen because of her academics.

“I get straight As. One of my favorite subjects is math, I’m always one of the first ones to get done,” said Gentry, who is in  Vicki Underwood’s fifth grade class.

While she is great at math, Gentry Blair said she wants to be an artist when she grows up.

“I like to draw and paint,” said Gentry. “I will take my art supplies with me and paint pictures while I’m in Australia.”

Gentry’s not quite there yet, but older student ambassadors can get scholarships or college credits for their trips.

Gentry said she’s not nervous, she’s just excited.

“Mom here is a little more nervous,” said Erin.

“Yea, she keeps threatening to hide in my suitcase,” said Gentry.

“This is going to be an amazing experience for her,” said Erin. “She’s going to learn so much and come home with awesome memories and lifelong friendships.”

For now, the mother- daughter duo, along with grandparents, are fundraising their way to the $7,000 price tag.

“We’ve raised $2,000 so far. We are planning some garage sales and car washes,” said Erin. “I also set up a FundMe website for her    at www.gofundme.com/australiaorbust2014. Any creative fundraising ideas are welcome.”

“Gentry exhibits many of the characteristics we love to see in our students. She’s a hard-working, well-behaved student who is quick to smile and laugh. She’s just an overall well-rounded student who is continuing to develop leadership qualities,” said Roosevelt Elementary School Principal Brian Bradshaw. “She’ll represent Pryor well this summer.”

“I am very proud of Gentry and I am thrilled she will be able to participate and represent Roosevelt and Pryor Schools on such a meaningful trip,” said Pryor Public School Superintendent Don Raleigh.

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