By Dean Bibens, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service   Published Feb 03, 2017 at 1:06 PM

At the beginning of the school year, Molly Schuld, a science teacher at Reagan College Preparatory High School, dreamed of taking students on a trip to the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador. Now it appears that her dream will come true.

"I care about three things: my students, science and traveling," Schuld said. "I never really thought before about how I could put those three things together. But when this idea came across to me via a flier in my mailbox, I just thought to myself, 'How could I say no to this?'"

Schuld received approval from Milwaukee Public Schools for the trip, and students have raised more than $22,000, including nearly $3,000 through GoFundMe. In addition, participating students have been making monthly payments toward the trip, using money from work, savings and donations from their families.

"We are all so incredibly appreciative of the support we have received from everyone in the community," Schuld said. "This trip is going to broaden the cultural knowledge of these students, and I couldn’t be more thrilled with the amount of effort they have put into making this happen."

All Reagan students except graduating seniors were eligible to take part in the trip, which is expected to take place soon after the school year ends. Thirty-five students will be participating, and there is a waiting list.

"I think this is a great opportunity for the students to make an impact outside of the classroom and engage with other cultures," said Mike Roemer, principal of Reagan High School.

"I wanted to take the students to a Spanish-speaking country," Schuld said. "I’m also very passionate about environmental science, and with the talk that the Galapagos may not be a tourist destination in the future due to environmental threats, I knew I had to capitalize on the opportunity."

The Galapagos Islands, which are a province of Ecuador, face threats from climate change, pollution, invasive species and other factors. They boast a wide variety of plant and animal species, many of which can be found nowhere else.

The per-student cost of the nine-day trip is $3,750. In September, students set fundraising goals with their parents ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars. They have sought donations from family and friends, and some have gotten jobs to help pay for the trip.

About $61,420 of the total $131,250 cost still needs to be contributed or raised. Schuld says that she is confident the trip will take place.

Kirstin Hackbarth, a junior, said that her experience volunteering at the Milwaukee County Zoo influenced her interest in the trip. "A couple of zoo keepers that I worked with went on the exact same trip about a year ago so when this opportunity came up I just said, 'Oh my God.'"

Adam Jaraba, a sophomore, said he is incredibly thankful for his family’s support. "We have a lot of family helping us fund raise," he said. "My mom and cousins have all gone out selling chocolates, which has been a huge help to me."

Jaraba, Hackbarth and other students said they are passionate about engaging with a different culture. "To see a new culture will provide us insight to a different lifestyle and we are all excited to live that for nine days," Jaraba said.

Five teachers signed on to chaperone the trip. Said Misa Sato, International Baccalaureate coordinator at Reagan, "I love travelling and I love these kids; I think this trip will open up a lot of doors for them."