Jun 25, 2011

Trips are for Kids: Reflecting on the 8th Grade Class Trip

CAA's 8th grade class of 2011 set sail for the Bahamas Sunday, June 5, 2011 from Port Canaveral, FL. In this photo class treasurer, "Freshboi", looks out to sea as the Carnival cruise vessel Sensation leaves port.
This blog began with an 8th grade class trip.  My first entries in the spring of 2006 were a recounting of that year’s trip to Seoul, South Korea.  Since then I’ve had an ongoing tradition of blogging extensively about the class trip.  I missed a year—my first in Columbus when due to an unusual set of circumstances which I won’t get into here—I ended up not going on the 8th grade class trip to Orlando even though I was the 8th grade class sponsor.  The trip entries have always been among my favorites.  But this year before I begin the usual chronicle of my adventures with students and colleagues in the Caribbean, I thought I’d like to reflect on the rationale for the 8th grade class trip.

My first 8th grade class trip was to Bali, when I was just 25 years old and a new teacher at Saipan SDA School.  It was a learning experience.  The kids were so terrified of the aggressive vendors on the streets of Kuta that they begged to just stay in the hotel.   I lost $75 of the class’s money to quick-fingered money-changers.  A group of my boys had to be moved from their hotel room because their loud horseplay in their room led to complaints.  I learned a lot that year and since then, I’ve taken groups of 8th graders to Australia (twice), the Philippines and Thailand, South Korea, Japan and Singapore and Orlando and the Bahamas.  All of the trips have been fantastic experiences. 

Here in America I’ve encountered a question that was never asked during in our years in Saipan:  Why do the 8th graders get to go on such extravagant trips?  (Well, actually no one has ever asked me that question directly, but I’ve been told the question was asked a lot this past school year.  The board votes at the local, conference, and union level were close, I’m told).  A typical 8th grade class trip is a visit to a neighboring city, a day at the local amusement park, and maybe a night or two at the Travelodge.  The kids have a good time and go home.  Some schools might even pull out all the stops and make the trek to DC for a few days of national heritage touring.  The kids get to see history first hand, learn a lot, and go home.  But riding an elephant by day in Thailand and sleeping in a five-star hotel in Bangkok at night?  White-water rafting in Bali? Learning to throwa boomerang from an Aborigine and petting a kangaroo in Australia? Attending a Broadway-style musical on the history of South Korea and hearing a world-reknowned pianist play in a beautiful concert hall in Seoul?  Experiencing three national cultures in one city on the island nation of Singapore? Taking a cruise to the Bahamas?  Isn’t it all a little much?  After all why should mere kids get to experience all that?

My response is simple: Why shouldn’t they?  The kids shouldn’t just have a little fun and learn a few things and then go home.  They should have an experience of a lifetime, a trip they’ll never forget.

I think 8th grade is an ideal time to take students on a major trip—whether it be to one of the great cities of America or to an exciting international destination.  Public and private schools are beginning to offer opportunities for kids as young as fifth grade to go to places like France and ChinaThis website has an ongoing discussion among teachers a few years ago discussing taking their middle school students to places like Mexico and Spain!  I’m proud to say that at the schools where I’ve taught we’ve been ahead of the curve instead of playing catch-up.

Here’s what I’ve found from more than ten years of touring the world with middle-schoolers:

8th grade students are old enough to appreciate the experience and are able to handle being away from home, but young enough that they can’t get into adult-style trouble.  With my 8th graders I don’t have to worry about my kids trying to sneak out at night to find the local nightclub.  I don’t need to worry about the kids trying to take advantage of another country’s lower legal drinking age.  Onboard the Carnival Sensation, I knew none of my kids were going to have much interest in or the ability to sneak their way into the casinos or night clubs.  The kids, despite the already raging hormones and their belief that they know everything, still retain a certain innocence that precludes trouble and also can make more open to the new experience.  To be honest, I don’t think I’d ever want to volunteer to take a group of high school seniors on a major trip—too much stress and worry!  I’ll take my 8th graders any day.

Traveling with 8th grade students exposes them to a wider view of the world.  Both in Saipan and in Columbus, I had students who had never been outside of the United States before.  Some had never even been on a plane or left the island (or state).  It’s an invaluable experience for kids to see how people live in a different part of the world or a different part of the country—to see how kids go to school in Thailand or the Bahamas, how the Adventist church worships in Korea or Australia, to learn a few words of a foreign language (or a different way of speaking English!)  It’s important for them to see the world is bigger than what they have known.

I loved my 8th grade class trip!! It definitely broadened my horizons. We were able to experience things that we wouldn't usually experience. I remember when we were in Australia we went into the Outback with the Aborigines and ate ants wit...h green butts. We learned that the ants are what the Aborigines ate while out in the Outback for vitamin C. The other day I was watching Discovery Channel and saw a special on Australia. Sure thing, the green butt ants were featured!! It was pretty cool telling people that I have actually tried the green butt ants!! Not to mention the white water rafting was pretty awesome!--Neischangpi Satur (Class of 2000, Australia)

On Tuesday, June 7, 2011 we visited the new campus of Bahamas Academy of Seventh-day Adventists on New Providence Island, which is still under construction.  Eventually this $10 million complex will house over eight hundred students.

We also visited the current campus of the Bahamas Academy of Seventh-day Adventists.  The kids were amazed to learn that the 8th grade class at Bahamas Academy has more students than our entire school!

And for some, this may be the only chance they get.  Sure there may be trips in high school, but if they’re not at an Adventist or other private school, with thousands in their class all they’ll get is an opportunity.  Perhaps, if they’re a part of the French club they’ll get a chance to go to France or tour the United Kingdom with the AP Literature class.  Maybe the seniors will have an optional trip that a handful of students shelling out big bucks will get to attend.  But the chance to visit a great destination with all of your classmates in a manageable group is a rare and precious opportunity.  With this in mind, I’ve always had a few basic principles that have guided my approach to the 8th grade class trip.

#1.  Everybody goes. I’m a strong believer in doing whatever it takes to ensure that every student goes on the class trip.  I’m proud to say that in nine 8th grade class trips, we’ve only had to leave behind four students (One because he and his parents never got around to applying for his passport despite repeated reminders, one who enrolled in our school the week before we left for the trip, one who discovered at the airport that she’d need an entry visa, and only one who I did not allow to attend due to behavior and academic issues).
#2.  The destination should be a place that most of the students have not visited before, and are unlikely to have the opportunity to visit again in the near future.  And I believe in giving kids a voice in where we go.  I know I could simply decree our destination at the beginning of each year, or simply return to the same place year after year.  I’m sure there are advantages to such an approach.  But here’s what I know:  I’ve never had a class complain about their class trip destination (whining on the trip itself however. . .well, they are kids after all!).  I think this is because my kids know that this is the trip that they chose through their votes, through their hard work and discipline (or lack thereof—if the kids end up going to Guam or Cleveland they know it’s because they didn’t put in the work for a more spectacular destination).  I also know that things have a way of working out—the kids may be all gung-ho for a European tour at the beginning of the year, but reality has a way of saying no as loud and clear as any law I could lay down, and I don’t have to deal with the resentment.  So you want to go to Paris?  Go for it.  Here’s how much money we’d have to raise.  Parents, principal, school board, conference board, union board all have to approve.  If you can make that happen, then by all means let’s go.  Reality takes care of the rest.  And hey, those second choice destinations-the ones I’ve been subtly promoting all year--they usually aren’t too shabby either.

The kids originally wanted to go to California, but they ended up here instead.  Bummer. (Lacaya Beach, Freeport, Bahamas. June 6, 2011)

ahhh 8th grade class trip, by far the best week in my life! Australia was amazing. Memories of it are still fresh in my mind. Arriving at the airport, waiting for the bus driver, getting to the hotel, arguing of beds, going to church, e...ating those LARGE mangoes, switching hotels, laser tagging, tube riding, that aboriginal park, that skyrail that was VERY scary, kei learning how to wash clothes, SHOPPING, white water rafting, and the four wheeler stuff. AND POOL, i wasted alot of money playing that. It was so much fun and we learned so much from it. All the fundraisers and all the hard work to get there was all worth it. Learning about the aboriginal people was cool too, I did not know they even existed and I bet they didn't know what chamorros or carolinians were. Imagine that, one week in Australia and I discovered a new race--Kono Remeliik (Class of 2008, Australia)

#3.  Learning is always on the itinerary.  And by that I don’t necessarily mean museums (though those are often included too).  A zoo, a classical music concert, a centuries-old fort, a cultural village are great academic learning experiences.  But I also want my students to learn about the larger Adventist organization our school belongs to.  I make it a point to visit an Adventist institution on every class trip.  I also want my students to learn how to conduct themselves while traveling whether right here in America or abroad.  Whether on a plane, train, or cruise ship I want my students to learn how to travel, how to make their way in a new place with courtesy, curiosity, and dignity.

One of my students poses with a cannon at Ft. Charlotte in Nassau on New Providence Island in the Bahamas. We took a brief tour of the fort that once housed a British garrison in the late 18th and early 19th century and wandered the grounds a bit on our own.

Finally, I believe the 8th grade is the ideal time for a big trip because often times it’s on the trip that they  grow up.  Literally overnight silly, irresponsible children seem to morph into serious, responsible young men and women.  Almost without exception my students have raised the bar while traveling with their class.  This last group, the class of 2011 maintained the trend.  There was none of the buffoonery, none of the constant arguing over instructions, none of the bad attitudes that had cropped up during the year.  My students were outstanding, throughout the trip.  Not that there was a lack of drama among them or some of the usual minor griping or lack of appreciation of the moment (“Hey guys, look a beach! Let’s swim!” “No, I’ll just sit on the beach here and be bored”).   But when it came to following instructions, staying out of trouble, carrying themselves with dignity in public places, exhibiting responsibility and courtesy to those around them, my students were exceptional.  I was so proud of them.  Of course, I’d had that feeling before:  Watching Myoung Hun barter like a seasoned professional with the street vendors in Bali, Ian changing in money in Australia like he’d been doing it his whole life, Fredo falling in love with Thailand, Nicole and Ana eagerly embracing each new experience in Singapore and South Korea respectively, “J”, “Koala”, and “S” exhibiting a heartening spirit of adventure in Australia.  Every year I get the privilege of watching my students rise to the occasion and shine.

I absolutely love the fact that I fell in love with Thailand. It became to me more than just a trip. The people were great and I really enjoyed the food, the stores, the culture. It was very good at impressing me. Learning some things and learning social norms in different places is also a very cool and neat thing to experience-Wilfredo Paez (Class of 2005, Philippines & Thailand)

This year our class took a cruise to the Bahamas.  Where will the class of 2012 go?  If you ask me, the sky is the limit. But no matter where we go, it’s sure to be the trip of a lifetime
I asked some of my former students turned Facebook-friends to tell me about what they remembered from their 8th grade class trip. Many of those kids are adults now, but they still have vivid memories of their 8th grade trip.  I shared some of the responses in this entry and you can see more here.
Coming up:
The Cruise: Highlights from the High Seas

Blogging the Bahamas Beaches: Onshore in Freeport and Nassau
"Seaing" an Old Friend

The Endorsement: WonderWorks, Orlando FL

More photos!  Pastor Joel Johnson, the father of one of our 8th graders, traveled with us as a chaperone and took lots of photos.  He promised us all copies of all his pictures, and as soon as I collect on that promise, I will add a lot more photos to this entry and the others to come.  Also, I'm going to work on getting written permission from all my students' parents so that I can post photos of the kids on the blog.  After all, it's a bit odd to have blog entries about my trip with my students and never see the kids!

Pastor Johnson armed with multiple cameras.  With this kind of equipment, I think you can expect some pretty outstanding photos!

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