About the Author: This is a guest post by Jill Colaprete, a math teacher at Dover Middle School. Jill has been the group leader for the Dover Middle School trip to Washington DC for the past 3 years. She also chaperoned the trip for several years prior to becoming the group leader. During the summers, Jill travels with students around the world as part of the People to People Ambassador Program. In this post she shares her advice for planning and leading a successful school trip for 4-6 buses of students.
“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.”- Lao Tzu
I love this quote. And when I am traveling solo, this is way I like to travel. No plans. No time constraints. Do what I want to do. However, when traveling with 220 or more students, this isn’t the greatest advice.
Each year, our 8th grade Washington DC trip usually involves traveling with 4-5 charter buses. When traveling with this large of group, planning and preparation are requirements for a successful trip. Planning is a year-round process, and it involves many people – from administrators, teachers, and students to our favorite travel company, Scholastica.
Our four-day itinerary in the nation’s capitol is packed and it is the glue that holds our trip together. The planning of the itinerary starts a year in advance. Usually within a week or two of returning from DC in May, I am talking to Scholastica about next year’s trip. Because we have a large group, trying to get enough tickets to some of our favorite activities is challenging. Seeing Shear Madness at the Kennedy Center is a student (and staff) favorite. Those tickets go fast but Scholastica does a great job jumping on those tickets for us as soon as they become available. We build the itinerary around our big activities (Shear Madness, the Holocaust Memorial Museum, Mount Vernon, and Capitol Building/Congressman visit) and then fill in activities that are more flexible on time. I am in contact with Scholastica regarding our itinerary right up the day we leave for the trip!
Keeping parents involved and informed about the trip throughout the year is another big part of our planning. When school resumes in the fall, we always have a meeting with the 8th grade parents to discuss the Washington, DC trip. We hold the meeting in the evening so that it will allow for most parents to attend. We give them an itinerary and discuss it in length with them. On the back of the itinerary, we give them all of the important dates for the year such as deposit and final payment deadlines, financial assistance form deadlines, and the trip dates. We explain our expectations for the students on the trip as well as the expectations in the classroom for the students to be part of the trip. We also use an automated call system to remind parents of important DC trip dates during the year. Our principal uses Remind101 to send pictures and updates of the students during the trip. The parents especially like this because it allows them to see what their child is doing at certain points each day.
The one aspect we spend a lot time on while preparing for the trip is student logistics. We usually have around 200 students that go on the trip each year. We start in February by having the students sign up with a partner of their choosing. This is the person they will sit with on the bus on the way to DC. We then group the pairs into fours to be roommates in the hotel. From there, we make the seating assignments for the buses. We have 12-13 teachers go on the trip each year and they are assigned a group of students to be in charge of in the hotel, on the bus, and while in DC. This makes it easier to manage instead of all teachers trying to manage all of the students at the same time.
Having successful class trip with a large group requires a great deal of planning. We have found that it is crucial to have a great (and flexible) itinerary, keep your parents informed throughout the process, and organize the students for optimal manageability. Once these three things are in place, you can focus on the smaller details of the trip and it is smooth sailing from there.
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