Group LeadersGuest BlogStudent TripsWashington D.C.

The Transition from Chaperone to Group Leader: Attitude is Everything

Photo credit: Rob Caldwell

About the Author: Dawn Villares is a Science teacher at Lakewood Middle School.

I love to travel. As a teacher at Lakewood Middle School, I have chaperoned the eighth grade trip to Washington D.C. for the past six years. I have always enjoyed being involved with this trip because it allows our students to leave their hometown and experience a place entirely different from Ohio. Yes, the students learn about history and government, but the main educational experience is what they learn about themselves.   This year was my first year serving as trip coordinator, which proved to be quite the transition from chaperone. I was reminded that travel is a great teacher. This year, I realized that situations will occur that are out of anyone’s control. The situations are not what defines you, but rather how you respond that will ultimately define you and your students. Let me explain.

When I took over as the Washington D.C. trip coordinator this past school year, I thought it was not that hard of a job. I had all my “ducks in a row” so to speak. I had all the paperwork done on time, all the meetings went well, and I was prepared for anything that came my way, or so I thought.

The morning of our departure played into the feeling of being prepared. We had all 106 students and 14 chaperones show up in a timely manner. They were checked in, on the bus and ready to go on time (five minutes early). When we pulled out of the school parking lot, I had the feeling that everything was going to be like this. At least the feeling lasted until we got to our first restroom break.

Photo credit: Rob Caldwell

Photo credit: Rob Caldwell

Our first stop was at the Pennsylvania welcome center. That’s when I heard the news that a student had gotten sick before we had even left to state. Even though we had bus bags for this, I was not prepared for someone being sick. That is why you prepare the bags, because preparing them is supposed to guarantee that you won’t need them…right? By lunch, we had a wave of students with nausea from traveling and one student with an actual fever. We were only 4 hours into the trip and it seemed as if the students were dropping like flies.

Then, one of the workers at the plaza asked if I was with this group. Much to my surprise, she commented that I might want to tell the students not to leave their cameras and belongings on the tables as they go to get their food. Now how could I have been prepared for that?  This was definitely a learning lesson for me and a reminder that this was the first time many of my students were traveling without their parents.  We turned it into a teachable moment on the bus, a lesson in independence and responsibility.

At lunch we also found out our bus was having an issue with the air blowing system. Our driver tried to fix it at every stop but it turned out to be a bigger issue than what he anticipated.

Early the next morning, I was informed that the driver had taken the bus to the garage to have the air repaired and would not be able to rejoin us until lunch. It was going to be hot that day. There would have been no comfortable way to be without the air on the bus. Although I was thankful it was being resolved, I was faced with a bus of students and chaperones with no transportation. I was given several options and I think we chose the best solution. We fit as many groups as we could on the other buses to fill the empty seats and the remaining students rode the metro with me and two other chaperones, courtesy of the bus company. Initially, all I could think of was why this year for this to happen. Instead of focusing on the downside of the situation, I turned it into an adventure for the students. They now had a special, authentic, DC experience of riding the metro. They loved it!

Photo credit: Rob Caldwell

Photo credit: Rob Caldwell

To me, I had planned and was prepared for everything, but that’s when it hit me. After informing the chaperones of what was happening with the bus, it suddenly occurred to me that these things will happen no matter how prepared I am or think I am. What really matters in the end is how they are handled. There is always going to be something out of anyone’s control that happens or goes wrong, whether it is a sick kid or a broken bus, but that is not what defines you. It is how it is dealt with that defines you and them. The best thing that you can do is be proactive. In the end, all of the sick students recovered and were able to fully participate in the trip. They didn’t miss a thing. The bus was fixed and didn’t have any further issues. Everything worked out!

I’m happy that I got my first year as trip coordinator under my belt. In travel and in life, you have to stay flexible to enjoy yourself. You must have a positive attitude. I’m happy that my students were able to learn this lesson and had the opportunity to travel. I look forward to next year.

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