The Watsonville High School French Club.
A meeting of the Watsonville High School French Club on Nov. 10.
(Courtesy of Watsonville High School)
K-12 Education

‘The Mona Lisa!’ Watsonville High students ecstatic about a renewed opportunity to visit France

After a similar trip years ago was cancelled due to lack of money, a group of students at Watsonville High School are currently fundraising for a trip to France in 2023. “The stars are aligning this time,” says French teacher Patrick Molanchon.

Sisters and Watsonville High students Jennifer Gonzalez Huerta, 15, and Estefany Gonzalez Huerta, 16, like many students they know, haven’t traveled much outside of Watsonville or their hometown in the Mexican state of Jalisco.

So when Watsonville High Counselor Daisy Nuñez told them to consider signing up for a school trip to France, they hardly gave it any thought.

“Initially, we didn’t think much about it because we didn’t think it was possible,” Jennifer told Lookout, in Spanish. “It’s so far away.”

Through the high school’s Hope Club, which is advised by Nuñez, the sisters are involved in a variety of community events and activities across Watsonville, but hadn’t imagined their school could take them across the globe.

“We were in awe thinking about the trip,” said Jennifer. “We imagined how it would be to go and we continued to think about it more and more as an option.”

With some encouragement from Nuñez, they decided to sign up. As of Thursday, a total of 30 students have joined them. The itinerary includes a week of exploring Paris, going to the Eiffel Tower and taking a cruise on the Seine River.

Organized by French teacher Patrick Molanchon, the trip isn’t scheduled until June 2023, but students are already planning and fundraising. Their first two fundraising events will be paint nights, one for students at Watsonville High on Nov. 23 and another for adults on Nov. 29 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Corralitos Community Center, at 35 Browns Valley Rd. in Corralitos.

Gonzalez Huerta Watsonville High School November
Sisters Estefany Gonzalez Huerta, right, and Jennifer Gonzalez Huerta, left, stand with paintings they made at Watsonville High School on Nov. 11, 2021.
(Courtesy of Watsonville High School)

Jennifer, an aspiring artist, will lead the paint night for students on Nov. 23.
All the proceeds will go towards the students’ travel expenses, which are estimated at $3,204, according to Molanchon.

This will be the first time in Molanchon’s eight years teaching at Watsonville that he is able to take the students on a trip to France. Originally from Valence, France — a town of about 60,000 in the southeast part of the country — he moved to the U.S. in 2002.

He previously taught French at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey from 2009 to 2013, after which he started teaching at Watsonville High School. While in his second year of teaching, he tried to organize a trip to France but it was canceled due to a lack of funds.

He’s sure this time around with more than a year to plan and fundraise, it’s going to happen.

“The timing is just right,” he said. “The stars are aligning this time.”

The trip has also led to the rebirth of the high school’s French Club, which will start meeting every Wednesday during lunch. The students who signed up for the trip attended the club’s first meeting this past week and filled the classroom, filling Molanchon with excitement.

“It is beyond imagination,” Molanchon wrote to Lookout. “The French Club is back!”

Molanchon, Nuñez and two other school staff members will be chaperoning the trip.

Nuñez, a Watsonville High graduate herself, said students and parents are ecstatic and see the trip as an opportunity for learning more about other parts of the world and for personal growth.

“For me, this is an opportunity to pay it forward,” she said, adding that she understands how trips like this can change someone’s life.

After spending one year as a high school exchange student in Switzerland, she became fluent in German. The trip inspired her to later spend a summer abroad in Germany and to participate in exchange programs while in college and during her master’s program.

“It has been a really profound experience for my educational trajectory,” she said. “And that’s why I’m motivating these students to take advantage of this opportunity.”

In addition to Nuñez and Molanchon, Watsonville teacher and alum Martha Vega will also be chaperoning. As a freshman in high school, she was also part of the French Club and went on a trip to France.

“It was my first time away from home,” she said. “It was critical for my development.”

To make sure they get that experience, Jennifer and Estefany are diving headfirst into fundraising. They see the trip as a way to begin to imagine who they’ll become as adults.

“By giving us these opportunities, it’s helping us to see what we want to do once we grow up and what we want to do after high school,” said Jennifer.

While they’re not sure exactly what they’ll do as adults, they’re both considering becoming psychologists. However, in the short term, they do know what they want to do in Paris. As artists, they’re excited to visit the museums.

When asked which paintings they were most excited to see, they responded at the same time:

“The Mona Lisa!”